New Zealand has focused on reducing old-age poverty at the expense of children, a leading academic says.
Jonathan Boston, an expert in public policy from Victoria University of Wellington, said that, since child poverty started to increase dramatically from the late 1980s, a "consensus" among policy-makers had meant the wellbeing of elderly people had received more attention than children.
"Essentially as a community we have made a decision that we are going to minimise poverty and material deprivation for our senior citizens," he said.
"Whereas we have decided to tolerate much higher rates of child poverty."
Professor Boston, who co-chaired the Child Poverty Expert Advisory Group, made the comments following his keynote address at the Children in Crisis conference in Hamilton this week.
Prof Boston said that, by using an official European Union measure, the childhood material deprivation rate in New Zealand was calculated at 18 per cent in 2008.
The rate, based on the proportion of households that lack three "essential" items from a list of nine, was six times the rate of material deprivation among those above 65 years old.
The figure was significantly higher than many Western European countries, he said.
Prof Boston told the Waikato Times that, since benefit rates were cut substantially in 1991, they have not been reviewed.
"That compares dramatically with what we've done with the elderly. For the elderly we have fixed national superannuation at a rate relative to earnings."
As a result, parents on benefits or low wages are significantly worse off than they were 22 years ago, he said.
This impacted on some children, who missed out on many things most kids took for granted.
"Basically we have two communities: a community where the children have almost everything regarded as essential; at the bottom, a significant number of kids who are missing out."
And it was not just the children of the poor who suffer, says the paper, Child Poverty in New Zealand: Why it matters and how it can be reduced.
"The broader social and economic costs include higher unemployment and thus additional public expenditure on welfare benefits, worse
- © Fairfax NZ News
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