One in six now born into poverty

17:00, Sep 12 2009

THE number of New Zealand children living in poverty has increased dramatically in the past year, with 20,000 more children dependent on social welfare than a year ago.

And the situation is expected to worsen as unemployment increases.

The latest vulnerability report, due to be released this week by the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS), shows the number of children living in poverty is on the rise for the first time in eight years.

The report coincides with a Summit on Children and the Recession, to be held in Mangere, South Auckland, on Wednesday. The organisers, Every Child Counts, say children suffer most when parents lose jobs or their homes, and when they're uprooted from school.

As the recession took hold in New Zealand in the past year, 20,000 more children became dependent on social welfare. According to the NZCCSS vulnerability report, there are now 219,627 children relying on welfare.

It also showed that community agencies are so stretched they are reducing the size of food parcels, introducing waiting lists and arranging shorter appointment times.

Advertisement

The director of Infometrics, David Grimmond, who will deliver the keynote address at the summit, said a "plan of action" would then be presented to the government.

Every Child Counts, a coalition of non-government agencies that includes Barnardos, Unicef, Plunket and Save the Children, estimates that of the 60,000 children born in New Zealand this year, 10,000 would be born into in poverty.

Grimmond said many such children live with the consequences for the rest of their lives, especially if parents argue, fight or break up because they are unable to cope with the financial pressures.

"Children who grow up poor have worse employment and earnings outcomes than others, partly because of the impact on educational attainment," he said.

"This creates wide-ranging costs for society higher welfare, remedial education and other costs."

Trevor McGlinchey, executive officer for NZCCSS, says children whose parents or sole parent receive welfare assistance were far more likely to live in poverty.

"If you were not taking any notice you would think New Zealand was full of happy, healthy kids, wouldn't you? But no, it's not the case. There are a couple of hundred thousand kids in NZ whose next meal is not guaranteed.

"There are a couple of hundred thousand kids who often share a house with another family, who are not able to participate in cultural and sporting activities and generally do the things that other kids do."

The vulnerability report shows demand at food banks and budget services is increasing.

The Wesley Community Action Porirua Foodbank has seen a 62% increase in the month between June and July. It is handing out food to 218 adults and nearly 300 children.

The Christchurch City Mission is handing out 40 food parcels a day, compared with 25 a year ago. The Auckland City Mission has reported a 52% increase in demand for food parcels in the six months to June, and the New Plymouth Foodbank has reported a 44% increase in people needing food parcels.

The Salvation Army has reported a 30% increase in the number of families needing help with clothing, bedding and budget advice. Major Campbell Roberts said: "Families who have managed well now require help. In the last quarter of this year [to June], 7000 families sought assistance from us; 5000 of those families we had not seen before."

McGlinchey says the worry now is rising unemployment, which increased 20% in the June quarter. There were 50,855 people receiving unemployment benefit in June, compared with 17,710 in June last year.

McGlinchey says more and more formerly high- and middle-income families are struggling to service mortgages on reduced incomes and need help.

Many are ineligible for Work and Income support.

Sunday Star Times