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More children living in poverty, with even more at risk under new govt initiatives – UNICEF

Child poverty statistics out today show a marked increase in the number of children in Aotearoa living in poverty over the previous year, with UNICEF concerned recent and proposed changes to welfare payments could plunge even more children into poverty.

Newly released StatsNZ figures for the year ending June 2023 show material hardship has increased, meaning families are forgoing basic household items due to cost. The material hardship rate increased 2 percentage points to 12.5%, with 1 in 8, or 143,700 children missing out on the basics like fruit and vegetables, meat, or heating.

UNICEF Aotearoa is concerned more children could be at risk of poverty under the Government’s latest proposals to sanction beneficiaries – impacting children reliant on Government support for these basics. This, alongside legislation passed under urgency that ties benefit increases to inflation rather than rising wages, means families are at risk of being worse off over time.

“The cost-of-surviving crisis is clearly impacting how many children are experiencing poverty, and we must do better,” Teresa Tepania-Ashton, Director of Programmes and Advocacy at UNICEF Aotearoa says. “It is a sad indictment on our society that we still allow children in communities to go without the basics while tax cuts are promised to the wealthy”.

“This Government says it is looking to be guided by evidenced-based policy. However, Government indexing benefits to inflation rather than wages flies in the face of evidence that suggests this move could push an additional 13,000 children in poverty. How can we justify these decisions?”

“It’s particularly concerning that for tamariki Māori and Pasifika children, there has been no significant decrease in households experiencing material hardship since 2019, and children with disabilities no decrease since 2020,” she continued.

Research released by UNICEF in December 2023, that compared child poverty rates in OECD and EU countries, highlighted the crucial role cash benefits play in alleviating poverty amongst children and their families.

“New Zealanders want to live in a country where children have what they need to thrive, not a nation where we deprive children of the basics because of political choices,” Tepania-Ashton continued. “We encourage Government to continue to engage with evidence-based policy and the social sector before making any further changes to the welfare system that risk putting innocent children deeper into poverty.”

“It’s unacceptable for a single child to be in poverty in this country. With 1 in 8 children experiencing material hardship, we need Government to prioritise the interests of children in any decisions relating to welfare changes, so we can bring this number down to zero.”

 

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