Child poverty on Key agenda

Last updated 05:00 24/09/2014

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Prime Minister John Key has asked his officials for fresh ideas on tackling child poverty.

On his first day back at Parliament since being re-elected on Saturday, Key said he had ordered Treasury and Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet officials to start presenting new ideas.

‘‘The recognition I think we all have is that there are some extremely poor children who are missing out,’’ Key said yesterday.

‘‘And so then the question is how do you resolve those issues, it’s not straightforward but there will be more you can do.’’

Key said it needed to be done without narrowing the gap between the incomes of those on benefits and those working, to ensure people were still encouraged into work.

Breakfasts in schools, free doctors’ visits for young children and tax credits for low and middle income families were examples of policies that could be used to tackle the problem, as could programmes such as Whanau Ora.

Last week, National released its welfare policy, which included a trial of financial incentives for beneficiaries who come off benefits into work as well as to help with childcare costs while they looked for work or upskilled.

Professor Innes Asher of the Child Poverty Action Group said to tackle child poverty, benefits and Working for Families tax credits needed to be tied to inflation and wages, while the minimum wage needed to catch up to the increase in the cost of living.

‘‘Clearly if you are wanting to lift working people out of poverty or lift their children out of poverty you’ve got to make work pay.’’

Seventy five per cent of children in beneficiary families were living in poverty. Their parents did not have enough money to meet the needs of their children and the in-work tax credits also needed to be extended to them, she said.

Doing this would shrink the income gap between beneficiaries and working poor which had grown substantially, but not erase it, she said.

‘‘The long term prosperity of New Zealand utterly depends on all of our children reaching their potential,’’ she said.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Key had a chance to make tackling the issue which affects about 260,000 New Zealand children, his legacy, turning around a problem which she says reached record levels in the 1990s and has been untamed since.

All political parties needed to work together to address the issue and Key _ who already had expert advice on how to tackle it _ had to lead that.

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Unless he did so it would remain a political issue rather than the ‘‘critical moral’’ one it was.

‘‘If we want to have a real symbol of national pride, of which he has identified the [new] flag as one, then ending child poverty… is a substantive… ambition for our country.’’

The momentum to tackle child poverty was building despite the fact that every government since it peaked in the 1990s had failed to tackle it, she said.

‘‘Let’s make the 51st Parliament the parliament where we turn that around.’’

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the Government needed to get the health and education sectors working closer together on the issue.

The policies aimed at addressing it would be released over the coming months.

- Stuff

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