Six siblings sharing one rain jacket, the 'working poor' and having the worst youth suicide rate in the world - these are the symptoms of inequality that have been smeared across the pages of the Herald this year.

According to a global inequality calculation - the GINI co-efficient - New Zealand reached a record measured high in 2015.

The number of desperate families "treading water" has noticeably risen in the last six years, John Tamihere said, Te Whānau O Waipareira Trust chief executive.

He's worked in social services for over 25 years and has seen the poorest families suffer under increasing pressure with high housing costs and low wages.

"If you get one traffic ticket, or if you get sick you have to pay $38 for a visit to the doctor.

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"That money will break a budget. These people don't have any head space... It's death by 100 cuts."

Journalist Max Rashbrooke, who has written in detail on economics and inequality, said people were poor because the economy directed resources to those who were already doing well.

This could be seen in the 1980s and 1990s when taxes were cut for top earners, while benefits were reduced by up to 30 per cent for the poorest families, Rashbrooke wrote on his website.

The top income tax rate on the rich was halved in two steps between 1986 and 1988 from 66 per cent to 33 per cent under a Labour Government.

"Thousands of people lost their jobs as companies moved overseas, and the number of people in trade unions - which traditionally pushed up the wages of ordinary workers - fell from 70 per cent of the workforce to 20 per cent," Rashbrooke reported.

While the Household Incomes report shows income inequality has remained relatively stable over the last 20 years. Rashbrooke said it had actually dipped in the 2000s largely due to Labour's introduction of Working for Families. But then since 2008, when National were voted into Government, most measures of inequality had shown a slight increase.

"So while the level hasn't changed overall in that 15 years, it has fallen and risen according to party policy in that time.

"And the end result is we are left with the high level of inequality created in the 1980s and 1990s, the problems of which compound and get worse with every day."

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And Kiwis care. Inequality and poverty was the number one election issue for New Zealanders according to polling data from Roy Morgan.

There isn't just one neat chasm separating those who have and those who don't, but rather a network of cracks. Inequality can most easily be seen between the rich and poor, Maori and non-Maori and along the lines of gender.

The median income for Maori is 75 per cent of NZ Europeans and their homeownership half. Additionally, Maori make up more than half the prison population, despite accounting for only 15 per cent of the total population.

Women can expect to earn $600,000 less over their lifetime than their male counterparts, A Human Rights Commission project found.

Bias and perceptions of women in the workplace can account for 80 per cent of this difference. The other 20 per cent is attributed to differences in education and occupations that men and women work in, or the fact that women are more likely to work part-time, stated the Ministry for Women.

The Equality Network, a nonpartisan group dedicated to reducing poverty and inequality, are campaigning for a living wage, increased income support, a Government-funded house building programme that addresses the housing crisis and tax on very high levels of wealth and high incomes.

​What they will do

All parties recognise inequality and poverty as a key issue - but they have different plans of attack.

In Budget 2015 National included a $790million Child Hardship Package to support up to 100,000 children experiencing extreme deprivation. This came into effect last year and increased benefits by $25 a week for those with dependent children and increased tax credits by up to $24.50 for very low income working families. They also introduced free doctors' visits and prescriptions for children under 13.

Budget 2017 included a $2 billion per year Family Incomes Package which will lift families' incomes by an average of $26 a week. It's expected to lift 20,000 families above the threshold for severe housing stress. There will also be an increase for the accommodation supplement and student benefit.

National has in the past rejected committing to a poverty target as it was 'too difficult', former Prime Minister John Key told Radio NZ last year - even though it was reccommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Labour criticised this and said they would make it a priority to produce a standard measure to estimate progress, as dealing with inequality was a core concern for the party.

Labour plan to address it with their Families Package which would ensure all families with children earning under $62,000 would be better off.

They want to increase the Family Tax Credit base rate by $570 to $5878 and up the abatement threshold. For example a Wellington sole parent with a two year old and an income of $45,000 would get $102 more under Labour plus a $55 Accommodation Supplement.

The Best Start policy would introduce a universal $60 per week for each child in their first year and up to age 3 for low and middle income families.

Labour's KiwiBuild programme will build affordable homes and sell them at cost price to first home buyers while tightening up on speculators. A programme to address low home ownership in Maori will get $20million.

They also want to increase the healthcare budget, give everyone three years of free post-school education and raise the minimum wage.

Reducing inequality and ending poverty is a top mission for the Green Party. They have a billion dollar plan that includes increasing all core benefits by 20 per cent, increasing Working for Families, raising the minimum wage to $17.75, lowering the bottom tax rate to 9 per cent while increasing the top tax rate to 40 per cent for those earning over $150,000.

They also want to ease the housing crisis by reducing housing speculation, improve renters' rights and build affordable homes.

NZFirst aim to release poverty's chokehold on New Zealand growth with policies like raising the minimum wage to $20 over three years, accessible healthcare to all and removing GST from essential foods.

They want to make hiring Kiwis a priority and will subsidise apprenticeships for unemployed youth, introduce a universal student allowance and write off student loans in exchange for time spent working in New Zealand.

As always there's a solid focus on superannuitants with restarting payments to the NZ Super Fund and keeping the retirement age at 65.

The New Zealand wealth gap

New Zealand had the most rapidly increasing imbalance between rich and poor than any other developed nation between 1984 and 2000.

Someone in the richest 10 per cent used to earn five times as much as someone in the poorest 10 per cent in 1984, now they earn nine times as much, showed figures from the Household Incomes in New Zealand report.

A 2015 survey by Statistics New Zealand found the wealthiest 1 per cent of people owned 22 per cent of the country's net wealth. The wealthiest tenth own 59 per cent and the poorest half of the country has less than 5 per cent.