NZ social policies off track - Salvation Army

By Talisa Kupenga

The Salvation Army's annual State of the Nation report, Off the Track, released today, shows New Zealand is veering off course, sometimes stalling or even going backwards when it comes to child poverty, housing, and crime and punishment.

The report focused on five key areas: Our Children, Crime and Punishment, Work and Incomes, Social Hazards like gambling, drugs and alcohol, and Housing.

The Salvation Army says New Zealand has failed to reduce entrenched rates of child poverty, re-offending and incarceration rates and provide adequate housing with rents continuing to outgrow wage and salary increases. Youth are bearing the brunt of our social and political choices.

Salvation Army Social Policy Analyst Alan Johnson says, "It's clear to us that there's a core group of younger adults and teenagers that just aren't getting any share of what's happening in our economy and we expect that many of those younger people are Māori."

But Johnson sees improvements for Māori in other areas.

"Youth offending rates are falling and we think that's a great thing. NCEA pass rates for rangatahi in lower decile schools are starting to rise. Space in Early Childhood Education is improving for all children across the board."

While the report identifies some positives, Johnson says the failures need urgent action.

The report shows NZ has failed to:

  • Reduce the rate of child poverty with 212,000 NZ children still living below the poverty line.
  • Reduce a record-breaking prison population that's expected to reach 10,000 inmates this year, with another 1800 beds on the way.

"The number of people convicted of crimes declined by 50 percent in the past five years but we're locking them up more and I think much of that's to do with maybe the crimes are more serious and maybe the people committing them are more desperate."

Johnson says many questions still remain.

"The government has highlighted the fact that they've reduced the welfare roll from about 350,000 to under 300,000 people and said 'well that's a success' but we don't know what's happened to those people. We don't know whether they're better-off or worse-off. Unemployment rates have largely stayed the same so there's something missing in this equation. We think it's to do with people finding more ways to get by without going to The Government and asking for support. So hustling at traffic lights, begging and sleeping in cars because they can’t afford rent."

Johnson hopes the report prompts people to consider these issues and voice the changes they want to see this election year.