Wouldn't it be great if our child poverty figures were as pressing and as clearly understood as the road toll?

Each holiday season, regardless of which political party is in power, we hear from all sections of society about the need to reduce the road toll. Everyone understands these figures not as distant statistics, or academic exercises, but as symbols of the suffering and grief experienced by too many families.

When the road toll rises, there is a broad public consensus that money needs to be spent on promoting safe driving, on interventions by police and other public officials, and on road improvements or other measures to increase road safety.

The road toll is a relatively depoliticised tool. I don't believe that the road toll exists primarily as political ammunition; but rather a snapshot measure which motivates people to take action.

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By contrast, the question of the measurement of child poverty is complex, hard to understand and has become a highly polarised matter. Children are among our most vulnerable citizens. We all have a responsibility to care for them, and to ensure they have what they need to survive and thrive.

We all know that there are serious issues to be faced and addressed when it comes to child poverty in New Zealand. This month's Children's Commissioner-initiated Child Poverty Monitor provides stark reminders of the facts.

The Catholic Church very much welcomes the commissioner's initiative, and strongly supports it. We trust and hope it will gain the formal support and commitment of the Government that it deserves.

However, we cannot understand why the Government has not publicly committed itself to last year's recommendations by the Children's Commissioner on the measurement of child poverty. Church groups work with the Government on a range of services, from social services to schools.

We are becoming used to the expectation the results will be measured in order to assess whether our work has an impact and where it needs improvement.

We also see that this is the approach taken by the Government in establishing the Better Public Services targets. But it seems the Government does not want to take this sensible course when it comes to setting targets and measuring achievement in the area of child poverty.

The whole world knows that poverty is a key priority for Pope Francis, who is particularly concerned about the hardship experienced by the most vulnerable members of our society such as children. He has again reminded us in his recently published Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that inequality lies at the heart of many social ills, and that we are all responsible for people in need.

This is not a new message, but is being proclaimed with increased vigour and welcomed with great enthusiasm by the whole community. We certainly accept our responsibility as churches and as communities to respond to poverty.

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However, our churches, church social service agencies, parishes and schools cannot assess and measure the impact of government and community programmes on child poverty figures as well as the Government can through official statistics and formal monitoring.

We need the Government to accept its responsibility to set an overarching framework for eliminating child poverty, so we can all work together on this important and pressing issue.

Wouldn't it be great if child poverty measurement and figures were such an accepted part of the landscape that we all waited eagerly to see if our particular contributions were making a real difference in the lives of children? And if we welcomed and expected government action as a result of hearing about a rise in child poverty figures, just as we do when we hear about a rise in the road toll?


John Dew is Catholic Archbishop of Wellington.