Time to do something about poverty, Jacinda

The government that is ‘bringing kindness back’ is failing on every front, but its performance to date on child poverty is truly woeful. This is the policy on which Jacinda has staked her own reputation, as she has publicly stated that child poverty is the reason she went into politics. Even back then, this was nothing more than virtue signalling, of course. While fixing poverty was never going to be easy, she should not be proud of the fact that under her government so far, the child poverty statistics have worsened considerably. quote.

About one in six children (16 percent or 183,000) live below a before-housing-cost relative poverty measure, but that figure jumps to almost one in four (23 percent or 254,000) once housing costs are accounted for. And 13 percent (148,000) are living in households that experience material hardship – 6 percent in severe hardship. These children don’t have such basic things as two good pairs of shoes. Their families regularly have to cut back on fresh fruit and veggies, put up with feeling cold and postpone visits to the doctor. end quote.

Poverty measures change with time, of course. Forty years ago, a child with a single pair of shoes would have been considered outside of the poverty brackets. Nevertheless, however we measure it, the numbers in poverty are increasing, and this government is doing nothing to address it. quote.

New Zealand introduced the Child Poverty Reduction Act at the end of last year. It was a bold move reflecting the Ardern Government’s commitment to do something about New Zealand’s dismal child poverty statistics. Earlier this month, Stats NZ released the first set of baseline statistics required under the act.

The Families Package, announced before the 2017 election, will go part of the way. Its increases in the Working for Families tax credits and, to a lesser extent, the changes to the Accommodation Supplement will reduce child poverty, especially against the first before-housing-cost measure. Treasury has estimated that the Families Package will reduce the number of children below this measure by 64,000 by 2021. end quote.

This won’t happen, and here is the reason why. The government is already failing on the one policy that would make a huge difference to material poverty for thousands of children. It has failed on housing. quote.

The impact on the after-housing-cost measure is likely to be smaller because of rising rental costs, which grew by an average of 5.2 percent during 2018. The reduction in the number of children living under material hardship is also likely to be less substantial.


end quote.

There, in a nutshell, is the problem. You cannot fix poverty in this country until the dreadful situation of housing insecurity, particularly for families on low incomes, is solved. This government campaigned on a bold programme to address this, by promising to build 100,000 homes in 10 years. 18 months on, the total number of houses built is 74, with 267 under construction. Rather than redouble their efforts, the government has decided producing statistics showing their dismal failure is not ‘helpful’, so effectively, they abandoned their promise within a year and a half.

The media are not reporting on it, but the number of homeless people is higher than ever. This is not necessarily the result of a lack of money – some of these people actually have jobs. The problems with a lack of housing are at the root of all the child poverty problems. Housing is simply too expensive, and rental housing, even in small towns, is difficult or impossible to obtain.

We know of a tenant who is being forced to leave his rental property on 30th June, because the landlord cannot afford to put in the required additional insulation in time, and has decided to sell. This man has nowhere to go. He does not want to leave, but the law says the house must be fully insulated by then. Because the property is in a small town, the rents are not high enough for the extra costs to be recoverable anytime soon. This man does not have any children, but there will be families in the same situation. It is madness.

Why is the government forcing families to sleep under a bridge all for the sake of a bit of underfloor insulation?

Cartoon credit: SonovaMin

Until this government gets serious about honouring its promise to build a lot more houses, and loosens up its attitude towards private landlords, children in poverty will keep increasing in number. It isn’t even about raising the minimum wage. If a family has no housing security or is forced to spend 75% of its income on rents, they are going backwards.

Fix the housing situation, Jacinda. Yes, it is hard, and obviously much harder than you ever realised. It was never going to be a matter of waving a magic wand as you thought it would be, but you are the government now and you made a promise.

If you really want to fix child poverty, the answer is simple. Fix the housing crisis, and do it now.