Should Government be more ambitious tackling child poverty?

The AM Show 23/05/2019

The Government's target of halving child poverty in a decade has left campaigners "a little underwhelmed".

Child Poverty Reduction Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed the Government's official targets on Wednesday, a week ahead of the so-called 'Wellbeing' Budget. They aim to lift 130,000 kids out of poverty, after housing costs, by 2028.

That would reduce the percentage of Kiwi kids growing up in poverty from 23 percent to 10 percent.

"That's not much of a target really, when you think about a decade and half a childhood... we're a little underwhelmed," Child Poverty Action Group co-convenor Alan Johnson told The AM Show on Thursday.

It's not ambitious enough.

About 290,000 children in New Zealand in 2017 lived in poverty, according to the Child Poverty Action Monitor - around 27 percent.

"National ran down Working for Families and it really did need a boost of extra money, and money matters, Susan St John of the Child Poverty Action Group told The AM Show in December of that year.

A few months later the Labour-NZ First coalition's first Budget saw more than $5 billion put into boosting Working for Families and other child-friendly initiatives.

"The $5.5 billion is over four years of course, and it really just reinstates cuts that were put in place by the previous Government - so what we're doing is going back to where we were [in] 2010, 2011", said Johnson.

I think it has had an effect, but it's just not enough.

What Johnson really wants is to get New Zealand back to where it was before 1991's 'Mother of All Budgets', which saw benefits slashed - some by up to 25 percent, according to Ministry of Social Development documents. Sanctions were also increased and eligibility tightened, and a universal family benefit canned.

Johnson said at least $3 billion needs to be spent boosting benefits and Working for Families to fix child poverty - every single year. And despite the price tag, he says it'd be easier than building 100,000 KiwiBuild homes in a decade.

"Much of what you need is just money... to give more income to families with children so they've got more money to spend."

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Dan Satherley