Child poverty report 'grim reading', says action group

One in five children have been reported as living in households where food either runs out sometimes or often, while one in 10 children reported experiencing psychological or mental distress. 

Of those surveyed, 11.2 per cent of secondary students had witnessed adults in their home hitting or physically hurting each other, and 10 per cent had been hit or physically harmed themselves in the last year. 

The latest Child Poverty Related Indicators (CPRI) Report for 2019/2020 has been labelled as "grim reading" by the charity Child Poverty Action Group, who said it showed "our children are suffering unnecessarily". 

Spokesperson for the group Innes Asher said "when one out of five children don’t have enough food to eat in Aotearoa New Zealand, that’s a chronic, mass emergency". 

"These are urgent issues. Children cannot wait and the Government is moving too slowly. Small steps are not enough."

Twenty per cent of children reported living in homes where food ran out sometimes or often, with that rate for Māori at 30 per cent and 46 per cent for Pacific children. 

The report also found that housing costs took up an increasing amount of family budgets, particularly for those on low incomes.

Almost 15 per cent of children who lived in rental homes reported major issues with dampness or mould. That was significantly lower at 1.6 per cent for children living in owner-occupied homes. 

Discrimination and bullying were "major problems", the report stated, with 20 per cent of people aged 18-24 experiencing discrimination in the last 12 months. In terms of bullying, there was 3.9 per cent of males and 7.7 per cent of females not going to school in the past month "because they were afraid they might be hurt, teased or bullied".

The report did find youth offending rates over recent years was decreasing. 

It said the Government needs to meet the needs of tamariki and rangatahi Māori as tangata whenua and address inequity and reduce significant disparities between Māori and pākehā. 

Māori were "substantially overrepresented" in referrals for Oranga Tamariki investigations, had "significantly higher rates of serious injuries" and had double the rate of attempted suicide.

"Tamariki Māori experienced significantly lower material wellbeing and higher material hardship than the overall child population," it stated. 

"They also were more likely than the general child population to live in a low-income household and where dampness and/or mould are a major problem."

It found almost half of Māori students gave their time to help others in their school or community in the past year. 

Pacific children experienced high rates of child poverty and "were more likely to live in households with low income, lower material wellbeing; material hardship, and food insecurity". They were also more likely to live in homes with a major problem with dampness and/or mould.

The report said that Pacific children aged 14 and under had much higher rates of potentially avoidable hospitalisations.

Pacific youth aged 15-24 reported lower psychological or mental distress and experienced higher discrimination rates and bullying. 

It also found Pacific young people aged 10 to 17 had significantly lower rates of binge drinking, marijuana use and lower criminal offending than the overall population.  

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that "whilst we have made some improvement and we are going in the right direction, there is still a lot to do".

"Too many children live in low-income households, or experience racism, bullying or violence," she said. 

"Overall, Māori, Pacific and disabled children and young people are more likely to experience worse outcomes. Many of the issues facing children, young people and their families are complex, stubborn and intergenerational, so we know change will take time, and will require sustained action across government and across our communities.

"While it is too soon to assess the longer-term impacts of Covid-19, we know it has given rise to major challenges in the lives of our most vulnerable."

She said the Government had taken steps to mitigate the Covid-19 impact, and would continue "to ensure our recovery from Covid addresses inequality and doesn’t leave our most vulnerable children behind".

National’s spokesperson for children, Shane Reti, said the report showed "no measurable change in housing conditions, preventable hospitalisations or food security in the lives of our most vulnerable children".

"The Government’s inability to get New Zealand’s housing crisis under control is hurting vulnerable New Zealanders," he said.