The Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft outlined some of the challenges posed by child poverty at a Rotary Karori/ANZ Bank business breakfast meeting on 1 May.
Judge Becroft began his talk by referring to the 'I Have A Dream' speech by Martin Luther King, how he put to one side a prepared speech and urged on by Mahalia Jackson gave his most famous speech from the heart. There is a need in New Zealand for us to have a dream moment for our children.
New Zealand has dropped out of a group of countries that had good outcomes for all their children. Instead we have arrived at a state where 70% of children can be said to do well or very well, 20% do much less well and 10% do badly or worse than children in other Western countries. The latter group are commonly subject to abuse, neglect and family violence. This has taken place against the background of a changing society which has become much less homogeneous. There are approximately 1.23m children (0-17 years) making up about 23% of New Zealands population. Its clear that far too many of our children are being left behind. The number of children is rising but the percentage of children is falling due to older people living longer.
Judge Becroft spoke of the importance of the first 3 years of life. Yet paradoxically women receive tax breaks when they return to work. There are many studies showing that childhood poverty leads to poor outcomes in later life.
Childhood poverty is often thought of as being difficult to measure, this is not true, There are 17 internationally agreed factors used to measure child poverty. Similarly income poverty is defined as less than 60% of the median income. By these definitions 26% of children are affected by poverty compared with 20% of the overall population. We do well for old people but statistics measuring the ratio of deprivation between young and old tell a shocking story. In many comparable countries this ratio is in the range of 1-2. In New Zealand the ratio is 6 showing that children have far higher rates of deprivation than old people.
Increasingly however governments have recognised the problem. Halving child poverty by 2030 is one of our sustainable development goals. However the problem is massive and urgent. Judge Becroft showed several slides of adverse social gradients that were clearly dependent on poverty. Finally Judge Becroft made an appeal for us all to listen more carefully to childrens' voices. Their inclusion can lead to surprisingly beneficial outcomes.