'We've all failed' - Report finds child poverty in NZ unchanged

Source: 1News

Despite official rates decreasing in the two years before Covid-19, child poverty in New Zealand remains largely unchanged, with 21,000 more children living in benefit-dependent households than before the pandemic.

That’s according to the Salvation Army’s 2022 State of the Nation report released on Wednesday morning, which found almost one in five children were living in benefit dependent households, an increase since the start of the pandemic.

Official child poverty rates decreased in the two years pre-Covid-19, before March 2020. But, the Salvation Army identifies the children most likely to live in poverty as being in households relying on welfare benefits - a number that increased in 2020 and has remained high during 2021.

Increases to core welfare benefits and other assistance in 2020 and 2021 are projected by the Government to further reduce child poverty, but the report found that Covid-19 disruptions were adding more “uncertainty to achieving this”.

Social policy analyst Ronji Tanielu told Breakfast “in some way we’ve all failed” in addressing poverty for some of New Zealand's most disadvantaged families.

“One of the things that we’ve constantly said in our advocacy is that a lot of the cracks that were in society before Covid, were actually magnified and got worse during Covid,” Tanielu said.

“Now we’re starting to see the ‘Covid tab’.”

He explained those cracks as falling under categories such as housing, welfare provision, food parcels.

Ian Hutson, director of the Salvation Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit, said families were now experiencing the “precarious nature of surviving on inadequate levels of income”.

He said the report showed “limited but steady progress” in reducing child poverty by some measures, “albeit starting from an unacceptably high starting point”.

The report also found Pasifika and Maori children were experiencing poverty rates two to three times higher than Asian and European children.

Youth offending down, violent crime up

Youth offending has continued to decrease in 2021, although the Salvation Army said there was "little further progress to reduce the large disparity in offending between Māori and non Māori."

Crime data showed increases in violent offences, such as assaults and sexual assaults. However, those were balanced out by declines in almost all other offences.

Data also showed that there had been no real improvement in things like alcohol and drug use, problem debt and gambling.

It found that financial hardship likely "worsened for many New Zealanders in the past year", indicated by increases in loans from non-bank lending institutions and more people withdrawing from their KiwiSaver funds for financial hardship reasons.

Tanielu said it could take generations to fix some of these challenges.