Poverty - an embarrassment to the country

21:25, Nov 23 2011

New Zealand poverty statistics are an embarrassing reflection on the country, say politicians.

On Monday a story published in the Taranaki Daily News said 150 children died, unnecessarily, of poverty related diseases last year.

Wellington Documentary maker Bryan Bruce, who spent two years researching poverty, said the same children would have survived had they been born in Japan, Sweden or Czech Republic.

Mr Bruce said poverty related diseases like rheumatic fever, scabies and respiratory diseases were unheard of in Europe where children received free healthcare and were provided with a meal a day at school.

Poverty in New Zealand is living at less than 60 per cent of the median wage, says Green party candidate Geoff Steedman.

"That's about $16,000 a year."


Weekly it's $307.70 which, if you're supporting more than just yourself, isn't enough to provide the necessities of life, like three nutritional meals, warmth, cleanliness, adequate clothing, transport and access to healthcare as it is needed.

According to this definition 200,000 children are living in poverty, about 20 per cent of the nation's young, which is a shocking rate, Mr Steedman said.

"It's a bad look," he said.

With increased concern political parties are pulling out all the stops to combat it.

The Greens are promising to halve the number of children in poverty before 2014 by providing more jobs, increasing the minimum wage and giving young families each $60 a week.

They hope that increasing the income of parents will eliminate the poverty problem.

"I don't think you can blame the parents. If you're unemployed or have reached a place where you can't cope you can't provide a good environment to bring your kids up," Mr Steedman said.

"We want to see a minimum wage increase, at the moment it's far to little for anyone to survive on, even if the parents are working it's inadequate."

 Labour's policies include a $15 minimum wage, removing GST on fresh fruit and vegetables and making the first $5000 of everyone's income tax free, Andrew Little said.

In most cases poverty is a result of low income, he said.

"There are families dependent on multiple low income jobs to make ends meet and often it's not enough."

National's focus is on lifting health and education outcomes for children in vulnerable communities by spending in early childhood education and schooling,  free after-hours GP visits for under 6 year olds and insulating state housing, MP Jonathan Young said.

" There are 222,000 children in welfare-dependant homes and we know they're worse off than children in working households. It's vital we get those parents off welfare and into work wherever possible."

 "Ultimately, the best way to address poverty is to grow the economy to increase the number of jobs and lift incomes," he said.

While policies from all parties address the issue of income, there is concern they fail to address the central issues of perpetual poverty.

Marfell Community School principal Janet Armstrong believes the root cause is a lack of parental skill.

"They (parents) don't know the best way to provide, their children don't come first," she said.

"Handouts don't work because there is no accountability."

The school has been combating this within its community by providing breakfast every morning for between 30 and 60 children, but Mrs Armstrong believes this won't ever eliminate the problem.

"We've seen the benefits, but it's more about socialisation," she said.

Teaching parents how to be parents is the key to breaking the cycle.

"Parents do what they do because that's all they know."

"Policy changes need to empower people."

How do you think child poverty can be eliminated in New Zealand? Comment below.


Taranaki Daily News