Saturday, July 20, 2024

UNICEF call to put children ahead of tax cuts

A new report released today shows New Zealand has made good progress in improving child poverty rates compared to other wealthy countries, but urgent action must be taken if New Zealand is to continue this momentum, says UNICEF Aotearoa.

UNICEF’s 18 th Report Card, ‘Child Poverty in the Midst of Wealth’, released by its Innocenti research unit, compares child poverty rates in high-income and upper middle-income countries in the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), using publicly available data. 

A country’s ranking in the league table is based on absolute rates of child poverty and proportional change in child poverty rates over a seven-year period. New Zealand’s ranking of 19 out of 39 countries comprises its rank relating to progress in reducing child poverty (17 out of 39) and absolute child poverty rates (29 out of 39).

“It’s encouraging to see the focus on child poverty reduction in New Zealand over a number of years is starting to have a positive impact on our precious tamariki,” said UNICEF Aotearoa CEO, Michelle Sharp.

“However, we still have a long way to go. Now is the time to double down on our efforts and ensure we have Government-wide commitment to seeing numbers continue to trend downwards”.

The report called out New Zealand’s high rates of poverty amongst Māori and Pacific children (20 and 24% respectively) when compared to children of European descent (around 8%), and high rates of poverty amongst children with disabilities, who are twice as likely to live in material hardship as children without disabilities. The report also mentioned that children living in a one-adult household were more than five times as likely to be in poverty as other children.

“No level of child poverty is acceptable in New Zealand, and we remain particularly concerned for Māori and Pacific children, children with disabilities and those living in single-parent households who are still suffering from unacceptably high levels and completely avoidable poverty,” Ms Sharp says.

Report Card 18 highlights the role of cash benefits, finding they are among the most effective ways to support children and families and alleviate child poverty. Further, the report highlighted the importance of indexation of cash transfers and abatement rates to ensure the value of transfers do not decline over time.

On Monday, the Government announced a small, mandated increase in Family Tax Credits, but plans to freeze the Working for Families abatement threshold at $42,700, where it has been set since 2018, rather than increase it to $50,000 by 2026 as previously indicated. This means families with children will miss out on crucial money for the basics, said Ms Sharp.

“We are urging the newly formed Government to prioritise children in its Budget. This includes adjusting the Working for Families abatement rate to ensure money ends up in the hands of those who need it most,” she said.

“The report title ‘Child Poverty in the Midst of Wealth’ demonstrates what we are experiencing here in Aotearoa New Zealand. There is more than enough to go around, and children’s basic needs shouldn’t be compromised to deliver tax cuts”.

UNICEF Aotearoa is also calling on the Government to:

  • Expand the Best Start payment to the age of five now, and establish a roadmap to a universal child payment up to age 18 by 2030.
  • Keep the campaign promise to maintain healthy school lunches in schools, and in future budgets make Ka Ora, Ka Ako permanent and available to all children in all schools.
  • Develop a housing strategy that ensures warm, dry, safe and secure homes for families, particularly for the more than 3500 children currently living in motels. We urge the new Government to keep election promises of supporting the community housing sector to grow and provide warm and dry homes to New Zealanders in need. 

Read the report in full

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