How many children ‘in poverty’?

John Key says that the Government will particularly target the 60,000-100,000 children living in most deprivation. Green co-leader Metiria Turei questioned Key in Parliament yesterday about the numbers, but came up with a few numbers of her own. Greens are campaigning to ‘end child poverty’.

End child poverty: Take the Step New Zealand should be the best place in the world to grow up. But for 285,000 Kiwi children currently in poverty, that’s just not the case. Persistent poverty damages a child for the rest of their life. And it damages our country. We’re spending over $6 billion a year on preventable crime, illness and lost educational opportunities – the direct cost of keeping kids in poverty. Many of our poorest children are excluded from getting the same support the state gives other kids who need it, because their parents don’t work enough. These kids need champions to make sure Parliament understands that ordinary New Zealanders want the best for all our kids, regardless of who their parents are

That’s “285,000 Kiwi children currently in poverty”. In Parliament yesterday Turei asked:

Is the Children’s Commissioner wrong, and are his experts who worked on the solutions to child poverty wrong, when they state that there are between 180,000 and 200,000 children who are materially deprived

But she also asked:

Did the Ministry of Social Development fail to give him the 2014 Bryan Perry report that showed that there are 260,000 children in poverty and that 205,000 of them are living in severe poverty, where their parents earn less than half the median income?

And:

Will the Prime Minister just admit that he has made up an Oliver Twist definition of poverty so that he can ignore some 200,000 New Zealand children who suffer from poverty every day?

So Turei and the Greens are quoting a number of numbers:

  • 285,000
  • between 180,000 and 200,000
  • 260,000
  • 205,000
  • 200,000

Greens seem to want to increase benefits to increase ‘incomes’, whether the parents are in work or not, and no matter what the deprivation. So what does Key base his number on?

It seems to me that the member picks and chooses her index depending on what suits her argument, but all I can tell the member is that if one looks at the number of children who are deemed to be at the most significant level of deprivation in New Zealand based on the Ministry of Social Development index, it is 60,000 to 100,000. But what I can say is that Bryan Perry’s new annual report—and the new edition will be out very soon—will make it quite clear that in terms of what they define as severe material hardship, there are between 60,000 and 100,000 children, and they have between nine and 11 conditions on the deprivation index.

Using actual measures of deprivation (or poverty) to target the worst problems won’t stop the Greens and others from accusing Key and the Government of not caring about kids and of deliberately keeping kids in poverty. —

Full draft transcript of questions and answers yesterday in Parliament.

Prime Minister—Statements 6. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Metiria Turei : How poor does a child need to be under his “definitional difference”, which he told Paul Henry about yesterday, when he claimed that there were only 60,000 to 100,000 children living in poverty?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The advice I have from the Ministry of Social Development material deprivation index is that there are indeed between 60,000 and 100,000 children who are living in more severe material hardship. They are children who, based on that index, lack nine to 11 items from that deprivation index.

Metiria Turei : Under his “definitional difference”, is a child living in poverty if their parents cannot afford to buy them fresh food, if they do not have two pairs of shoes, if they cannot afford a school uniform, and if they do not have their own bed? Rt Hon

JOHN KEY : I refer the member to the Ministry of Social Development’s material deprivation index.

Metiria Turei : Is the Children’s Commissioner wrong, and are his experts who worked on the solutions to child poverty wrong, when they state that there are between 180,000 and 200,000 children who are materially deprived—that is, they go without three or more essential items such as fresh food, warm clothes, their own bed, and good shoes?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : It seems to me that the member picks and chooses her index depending on what suits her argument, but all I can tell the member is that if one looks at the number of children who are deemed to be at the most significant level of deprivation in New Zealand based on the Ministry of Social Development index, it is 60,000 to 100,000.

But I would say that this Government is very focused on all children, particularly those who are less well off, and there are degrees of how less well off they are.

That is why the Government introduced free GP visits.

That is why the Government has put more money into providers like KidsCan.

That is why this Government has worked alongside Fonterra and Sanitarium to provide free breakfasts.

That is why the Government has supported having social workers in all low-decile schools.

It is why the Government has introduced children’s teams to work with at-risk children and families.

That is why the Government has insulated every State house, and it is why the Government has worked to insulate 240,000 other homes and has given them clean heating.

This is a Government that, in the very worst of times in New Zealand, has maintained benefits and entitlements that provide support for the very children whom that member is talking about.

Metiria Turei : Did the Ministry of Social Development fail to give him the 2014 Bryan Perry report that showed that there are 260,000 children in poverty and that 205,000 of them are living in severe poverty, where their parents earn less than half the median income?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The member will note—if she wants to refer to that particular report that she is talking about—how consistently the numbers that she is talking about have been at that level of deprivation. In fact, there were about 240,000 to 260,000 children living in poverty under Labour, at the height of what was theoretically an economic boom.

But what I can say is that Bryan Perry’s new annual report—and the new edition will be out very soon—will make it quite clear that in terms of what they define as severe material hardship, there are between 60,000 and 100,000 children, and they have between nine and 11 conditions on the deprivation index.

Metiria Turei : Would the Prime Minister agree that by promising to tackle child poverty and then changing the definition of poverty to exclude most of the children who are actually poor, he is breaking yet another Budget promise?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I think the member is being extremely selective with the comments I have made. If she actually goes back and looks at the interviews that I have done on this topic ever since the last election, she will see that I have consistently said that there is a disagreement between ourselves and those who claim that there are 260,000 children in that category.

We have made it quite clear that we see a group of 60,000 to 100,000 as our priority. It does not mean that we do not provide either services or support for the wider group; we actually do. I listed a great many, and I will not repeat them now. But our primary area of focus and attention is on those who are most in need.

I think most New Zealanders, actually, would say that the Government having a focus on those who are in the worst of conditions is putting our resources in the right place.

Jacinda Ardern : Does he stand by his previous statements in this House that there are many measures of child poverty, in light of his position now that there is just one, material deprivation, which just so happens to be the smallest of all the measures that are used by the Children’s Commissioner?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I stand by the view that there is no one single measure, but I am simply saying that the material deprivation index, according to the advice that we have had from the Ministry of Social Development, is the best. That is one measure, but there is no one single measure of poverty in New Zealand, and I do not think there should be.

Metiria Turei : Will the Prime Minister just admit that he has made up an Oliver Twist definition of poverty so that he can ignore some 200,000 New Zealand children who suffer from poverty every day?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I think the member risks being a little bit silly. I listed a few moments ago a very wide range of support that we provide for all New Zealand children, and in some cases, obviously, the support is much more focused on those who are in need.

I have made it quite clear that I think there is a group who are in worse hardship than others, and that is supported by the material deprivation index, which evolved, actually, from the European equivalent.

It is a very thoughtful process that Bryan Perry goes through, and it looks at very detailed analysis. I am more than happy to have the debate with the New Zealand public, but I think you might find that the New Zealand public supports the view that those who are most in need deserve the most support.

That does not mean that other children do not get support; they actually do. But this Government is very focused on that group, and I think most New Zealanders would say that is the right thing to do. The member shakes her head, but if we followed her economic policies a whole million of New Zealand children would be in hardship because none of their parents would be in work.

Leave a comment

10 Comments

  1. Andrew

     /  20th May 2015

    you embedded the wrong video :o)

    Reply
  2. Pierre

     /  20th May 2015

    The difference in definitions comes down to absolute $ (Key) and relative $ (Greens). The latter is, in my opinion, inequality rather than poverty. The emphasis should be on the former (as it appears it is). Of course having too many earning a lot less than middle class will cause other social problems so can’t be dismissed outright – but that is a different topic.

    Of course if we want to eliminate all poverty – under the Greens definition – then employ 55% of the population on govt work at $10 per week (and ban them from working elsewhere). The median wage becomes $10/wk and I’d say of the remaining 45% of the population that almost none will earn less than $6/wk (the poverty line of 60% of median wage). Simple. Problem solved.

    Reply
  3. kittycatkin

     /  20th May 2015

    There’s an ad that shows some children going to school barefoot and without raincoats because the parents can’t afford these. Can’t afford $2 for a raincoat and whatever shoes cost in shops like KMart and The Warehouse ?

    The shoe thing can be most misleading; I see a family of Maori children who live near me and who go barefoot almost all year. Sometimes I see their shoes slung round their schoolbags. They live in a very nice house, owned by their parents who drive a good car of their own and a work van. The shoeless state is obviously voluntary as it is in many cases-I went barefoot whenever I could as a child, and still do.

    Reply
  4. kittycatkin

     /  20th May 2015

    At the moment The Warehouse has shoes up to big sizes from $5.

    Reply
  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  20th May 2015

    Has Turei ever, in her whole life, said anything constructive?

    Reply
  6. The Greens are alienating a large chunk of the electorate with this inequality = poverty argument. Key focusing on genuine poverty via deprivation measures is the right approach.

    It appeals to Kiwis sense of equity to address true hardship not simply follow the Greens inequality riff, which irritates a large number of us

    Keep banging the drum Meteria, your a true pillar if National Party rule by endlessly demonstrating the Greens inability to focus on real problems

    Reply
  7. When I read these responses.. all I think is; when was the last time most of you struggled to pay a power or phone bill OR had to walk to the shops because you either don’t have a car or could not afford to put petrol in the tank ?

    Sounds like most of youZ grew up with a ‘silver spoon’ somewhere OR maybe you have worked hard to achieved.. BUT now just ‘pulled up the ladder’..
    “HEY YOU”.. not all of us live in the privileged. wealthy top end of town & some of us are real battlers ! 😦

    btw: “we are people TOO” :/

    Reply
  1. Children’s Commissioner wants ‘conversation’ on targeted welfare | Your NZ

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