$1b needed to stop poorest Kiwi kids from falling behind the 'average' child

The UNICEF report looks at how far the most disadvantaged kids are allowed to fall behind the 'average' child.
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The UNICEF report looks at how far the most disadvantaged kids are allowed to fall behind the 'average' child.

The Social Development Minister says it's impossible to measure poverty despite a report revealing families of the poorest Kiwi kids have half as much money as the average home.

The children's charity behind the report released on Thursday is calling for a $1b investment to start solving the problem.

UNICEF's Fairness for Children report looks at "how far rich countries allow their most disadvantaged children to fall behind the 'average' child".

It covers 41 countries in the European Union and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ranking them in areas including income and education.

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But Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said organisations needed to be "very careful" about pulling out individual statistics around inequality.

UNICEF NZ's national advocacy manager Deborah Morris-Travers said the cost of not investing $1b in child poverty would ...
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UNICEF NZ's national advocacy manager Deborah Morris-Travers said the cost of not investing $1b in child poverty would be 'enormous'.

"It's the same with trying to identify the number of children living in poverty, there's a myriad of ways of judging it."

Tolley said the Government had invested almost $800 million in the hardship package, which would increase the benefit and "make a considerable difference to those low income families".

In New Zealand, the most deprived Kiwi kids' homes have about half the disposable income of average homes with children, the report said.

That puts New Zealand in 17th place for equality in income, and in the middle third of all countries in the report.

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But the 47 per cent income difference isn't between richest and poorest - the data looks at the most deprived children and compares their household's income with someone at the median.

New Zealand is in the bottom third for inequalities in education, according to the report.

It was ranked 31 out of 37 countries based on the differing test results of the most deprived kids and those who were mid-range.

The rankings are based on the performance of 15-year-olds in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) testing.

Children were tested on reading, maths, and science literacy and 11 per cent of Kiwi kids were judged below proficiency in all three areas.

New Zealand did not feature in the report's league tables for health and life satisfaction because there wasn't comparable data available.

Tolley said she didn't know why the data wasn't provided but questioned how you measured health and wellbeing.

"What do you define as good health? How do you measure that?"

An investment of about $1b was needed to start solving problems of child inequality in New Zealand, said Unicef NZ national advocacy manager Deborah Morris-Travers said.

"That cash needs to be reaching children and families, not being tied up within very complex systems in Government," she said.

"The ongoing costs of not doing so are enormous."

The report showed New Zealand was not alone in facing issues of child inequality, she said, but it was time for the Government to step up and deliver.

"We've got a serious problem, it's a 30-year problem," she said.

"Families that are living in hardship are spending all of their time just trying to provide food for their children."

Those in the deepest poverty in New Zealand were parents on benefits or those working minimum hours, she said.

But parents could still have a job and struggle to provide for their families.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the Government has done nothing for children from poor families in the last seven years.

On top of that, she said "when it comes to education, it has made the outcomes for those kids worse".

"It's time for New Zealand to deal with the shocking income gap which means a huge number of Kiwi children are forced to have a quality of life that's out of step with a compassionate first world country."

Turei was also concerned that New Zealand didn't provide the data other countries did to enable UNICEF to "measure our progress on health and social factors related to equality".

"The Government needs to get good quality information about how its policies are impacting on Kiwi kids," she said.

And the impact that "deprivation and inequality" is having on the educational outcomes of those children in the poorest families is clear in this report, Labour's spokeswoman for Children, Jacinda Ardern, said.

New Zealand isn't ranked in all areas of the report because in some cases there was a lack of data to be compared with other OECD countries.

Ardern said it was "disappointing" New Zealand wasn't gathering enough information to fully take part in an international report.

"The Government explains that away as being bureaucratic and the wrong focus but how do you know you're making progress, or compare yourself internationally, or test your ideas unless you're properly understanding the problem in the first place?"

The report noted that kids had no control over their social and economic circumstances.

"Differences in merit cannot reasonably be advanced as justification for inequalities among them," it said.

"Social and economic disadvantages in early life increase the risk of having lower earnings, lower standards of health and lower skills in adulthood. This in turn can perpetuate disadvantage across generations."

Solving the problems indicated in the report card would be challenging, it said.

"However, the fact that children fall less far behind in some countries than in others demonstrates that large gaps are not inevitable. "

 - Stuff

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