The Children’s Commissioner says while the benefit increases delivered in Budget 2021 today will help relieve hardship among some families, “much more is needed” to make immediate and significant improvement to children’s lives now.
As part of Budget 2021, Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced increases in benefits for families with children ranging from $36 to $55 per week.
All benefits will get a $20 per week top up from July. A further boost is expected in April 2022, in line with the Welfare Advisory Group recommendations.
From April 1 next year, adults with children will also receive an additional $15 a week each.
Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft said the move is “an important and significant step forward for children living in poverty and hardship”.
“However, I’m worried that the needs of children now are still not being adequately met. More than 125,000 children are living in material hardship, and Māori, Pacific and disabled children figure far too much in that group," Becroft said.
He said targeted investment is needed for those groups.
“We also support many other initiatives in the Budget that will help children, including better childcare assistance, expansion of free school lunches, and the commitment to review the Working for Families scheme and the accommodation supplement.
“I hope to see the maximum accommodation supplement indexed to housing costs, and rules introduced to prevent landlords increasing rents at the lower end of the market so they don’t gobble up the increases," he said.
Robertson told the House the benefit increases are projected to lift about 33,000 children out of poverty, as the first benefit changes kick in from July, then are lifted again in April.
The projection is based on measuring household incomes after housing costs.
“This represents an enormous change in the lives of these people. It will mean, as one person asked for on television as their Budget wish, that we will put shoes on the feet of our children and food in their stomachs,” Robertson said.
Since 2017, Robertson said the Government's actions have resulted in 43,000 fewer children in low-income households and 18,000 fewer children experiencing material hardship, according to the latest Child Poverty Report.
Budget 2021 also extended funding for the Healthy School Lunches programme, with a further $526.9 million invested in it.
Further support is also provided for out-of-school care and for parents or caregivers to transition into employment, education or training.
"[Budget 2021] also puts in place the indexation of childcare assistance income thresholds to the average wage, which will benefit over 1000 families and whānau or around 1500 children," Robertson said.
Earlier this month, the latest Child Poverty Related Indicators (CPRI) Report for 2019/2020 found one in five children have been reported as living in households where food either runs out sometimes or often.
It also found one in 10 children reported experiencing psychological or mental distress.
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.