New Zealand's biggest growth industry isn't agriculture or manufacturing – it's poverty, a Waikato University professor says.
Social scientist, Professor Darrin Hodgetts, said New Zealand was "growing poverty".
"It's our growth industry and it's growing at three times the OECD average," Prof Hodgetts said.
According to the OECD at least one in five New Zealand children live in severe or significant hardship, while at least one in four children lived below the semi-official poverty line.
According to figures, the richest 1 per cent of the population owns three times more than the combined cash and assets of the poorest 50 per cent.
Hodgetts is an expert on homelessness and has researched the experiences of marginalised groups in New Zealand.
"Things like Working for Families have had an impact but they haven't stopped the growth and the OECD figures are pretty conservative," he said.
New Zealand had gone from one of the most equitable societies – in terms of income distribution – to one of the worst.
"And the cracks are getting bigger. The problem is we don't see these things as a human rights issue."
He said the Government was quite happy to rely on food banks to feed people.
"We signed a declaration with the United Nations that says food is a human right and people should have it, yet we don't provide a living wage and a lot of people don't have access to enough food.
"We need to have a frank conversation about that."
Hodgetts is two months into an Auckland-based study called Family 100, interviewing 100 struggling families in the region about their experiences.
"There's lots of conversations about families in need and lots of opinions about what goes on in these households, but there's a lack of research about the realities.
"It's no good endlessly talking about those families without actually engaging with them. When you do, you realise that a lot of these people are good parents who are really concerned about their kids and they're doing their best."
Hodgetts' comments are backed by Claire Dale, a research fellow at Auckland University business school's retirement policy and research centre and the chief editor of the Child Poverty Action Group's flagship publication Left Further Behind.
Poverty was a growing problem that was exacerbated by the way it was dealt with, she said.
"If you privatise the support for people in poverty, or for people on welfare, or for people in need of assistance, then you are growing the industry. You are creating an industry and growing it."
Far more people were in poverty now than had been at the start of the global financial crisis, Dale said.
She agreed poverty should be viewed as a human rights issue, and that poverty was growing faster in this country than in many other developed countries.
Child health statistics were "appalling", with children living in crowded, damp houses getting third world diseases.
"Of particular concern is all the adolescents who aren't in employment, or work, or education. That's terrible. We can't afford to lose a generation," Dale said.
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- Waikato Times