Sallies worried over state of the nation

Abuse and violence toward children is on the rise and the Salvation Army says more needs to be done to change public policy in the area.

The Salvation Army has released its seventh annual State of the Nation report in which it reviews social progress in New Zealand.

The social agency said we were all but ignoring children in poverty, domestic violence and violent crime.

The report showed "credible progress" in some areas of social wellbeing but a lack of willingness by successive governments to deal with crucial issues, Salvation Army social policy director Campbell Roberts said.

The areas of progress included a drop in infant mortality, a reduction in teenage pregnancy rates, a reduction in overall criminal offending to the lowest rate in 34 years and a drop in the unemployment rate.

But the report showed the number of substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect had risen 3.7 per cent to 22,984. The Number of offences against children, including violence, mistreatment or neglect, had risen 1.3 per cent to 5212.

Roberts said being an election year it was important New Zealanders drove home to politicians that the elimination of family violence and child poverty should be a greater priority.

"Without doubt the most disturbing data in the report relates to child poverty and family violence. Neither of these areas is improving. Every day Salvation Army workers see the tragic results of the failure to deal with these issues.

"I'm still left feeling a bit of despair. There are still some significant problems," Roberts said.

According to report author, Salvation Army social policy analyst Alan Johnson, there had been little change in the number of children living in poverty in the past five years. There were more than 200,000 children living in poverty in New Zealand.

Changing categories of benefits had also made it harder to get an accurate estimate of the number of people living in poverty, he said.

Johnson said there had been an "unchanging pattern" when it came to violent offences and despite there being less notifications this was likely to be because of a change in practise by police rather than an actual reduction in offences.

Domestic violence in general increased over the five year period to 2013 and still a large amount of violence was going unreported.

There are more than 30,000 domestic violence offences each year which accounts for about 60 per cent of all violent offences.

Labour Leader David Cunliffe said the report added to the growing calls for action on child poverty.

"The report shows signs of improvements in some social indicators but, while the top end of town and the privileged few continue to do well under the current Government, child poverty and the lack of affordable housing are ‘time-bomb’ issues for our country," he said.

Johnson said since the "It's Not Ok" anti-domestic violence campaign had ended there had been a decline in the awareness of domestic violence.

"Nothing or little has changed in terms of the incidence of violence in the home," Johnson said in the report.

Roberts said unless ordinary New Zealanders took the matters seriously the government was unlikely to.

"Public pressure will help policy makers strike a better balance. As a nation we must take a brave and more deliberate interventionist approach if we are to see child poverty and family violence significantly reduce.

"Unless we push for change these outcomes will become the default position."

Finance Minister Bill English said the report showed a "reasonably positive picture".

"It shows significant progress in some areas, and not enough progress in others."

English said the Salvation Army was a credible commentator, but while it shared common ground with the Government over which issues were priorities, there would be differences of opinion over how those issues were dealt with.

"We probably have different view about what more needs to be done. The government has a very active programme, particularly addressing those groups where we share a view with the Salvation Army that they should be a priority, and that is children or victims of violence and children in very persistent poverty.

"We've got an active programme addressing that, and in fact work with the Salvation Army and others as we try and deal with those issues."