Advocates question child poverty data

By Tumamao Harawira

Child poverty and household income data released by Stats NZ today show a downwards trend in child poverty over the past three years.

Since 2019, Stats NZ has been tracking data for Māori children in material and financial hardship, material hardship being those who have lived in households with less than 50 per cent of the baseline year’s median after-housing-costs income and financial hardship, those who lived in households with less than 50 per cent of the median income before housing costs.

For Māori, the rate was 17.8 per cent (52,600) in the year ended June 2021, down from 22.4 per cent (66,200) two years earlier. For all New Zealand children, the rate was 16.3 per cent.

In the year ended June 2021, more than one in six  Māori children (53,600 or 18.1 per cent) lived in households with less than 50 per cent of the median income before housing costs, meanwhile, one in five  (60,300 or 20.2 per cent) experienced material hardship.

But advocates are questioning Stats NZ figures, claiming there is no demonstrable correlation between the figures and what's happening in the real world.

Dr Keri Lawson-Te Aho, from the Department of Public Health at Otago University and an expert on child poverty, says despite the Governments claims on lowering child poverty, it's difficult to comprehend, and says the system is discriminative.

Housing mess

"That has flow-on effects to their education, a disrupted education. That has flow-on effects on job opportunities, and all of this can be attributed to entrenched racism."

"Seeing the day to day impacts of homelessness and poverty, it does not align with the numbers."

They were a measure that allowed the government to pat itself on the back.

The report on household incomes and housing has no specific data for Māori but, according to Stats NZ, over a third of New Zealanders are spending 40% of their income on housing, Brooke Stanley Pao from Aotearoa Action Aginst Poverty says housing affordability and supply are a disaster in New Zealand.

"It's a mess! Housing's a mess. I think emergency and transitional housing shelters aren't housing. First of all, they don't have any tenancy rights. So, if the landlords think they are not meeting certain criteria or obligations, they can say 'you know what? we don't want you to stay here".

Stanley Pao says the government could make child poverty a number one priority if it wanted to.

"Covid was a game-changer, and also the way the government responded was a game-changer. So I don't see why they aren't also responding to poverty, which I believe is a pandemic in this country."