High levels of immigration are keeping wages low and having a negative impact on child wellbeing, a visiting expert has said.

Three months of free lectures kick off today to inspire Kiwis to reduce child poverty.

Dr Andrew Leigh is the first speaker in Wellington and Auckland with his talk titled Equalising the Antipodes: What Can New Zealand and Australia Learn from Each Another About Reducing Inequality.

Leigh argued that high levels of immigration could be keeping wages low, whereas foreign investment could help reduce inequality. He also believed New Zealand was weak on employment rights.


"Today, both Australia and New Zealand have strong immigration programmes. Migrants can fill skill gaps and start businesses, boost innovation and encourage exports. But they also have the inevitable impact of lowering the capital to labour ratio. To the extent that migrants are adding to the number of workers available to do a given job, this may put downward pressure on wages.

"New Zealand ranks as the country that provides least protection against dismissal, below even the United States with its 'at-will' employment contracts."

The Improving Child Wellbeing series addresses a range of topics, from how to measure child poverty to the role social housing plays in child wellbeing, reflecting the multi-dimensional nature of the issue.

Speaker Ann Jacobs will relate her observations in New York of incarcerated mothers and their children to the prison problem in New Zealand.

Over the past 25 years, a wave of "penal populism" has caused New Zealand's prisons to burst at the seams despite a steady fall in the crime rate. Our current incarceration rate of 220 per 100,000 population is equivalent to places like Gabon and Namibia, rather than places we like to compare ourselves with, like Sweden on 66 and Germany on 83.

"In the past 40 years, the United States experienced a dramatic increase in its rates of incarceration, and women were the fastest growing part of that population," Jacobs said.

"The majority of those women were mothers and their incarceration was devastating for their children.

"As the US has been effectively reducing its reliance on incarceration, we have discovered more effective ways of dealing with the lawbreaking while better addressing the needs of children and families. The result can be both an improvement in public safety and community wellbeing."


Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni will close the series on July 20.

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni. Photo / Mark Mitchell

will host the breakfast talks in Auckland, followed by lunchtime events in Wellington the next day.

The series was organised by Presbyterian Support Northern. Chief executive Denise Cosgrove said there was increasing urgency to improve child wellbeing.

"This lecture series offers anyone with an interest in the issue a chance to learn from the best, to stretch their thinking and to contribute to solutions."

The events are free but online registration is required. Space will be limited at the two venues KPMG in Auckland and Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Register here.