2018 Child Poverty Monitor

When becoming Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that dealing with child poverty would be a priority for her and her Government.  However there are no easy or quick fixes – yet at least.

 

Click here for the Child Poverty Monitor: 2018 Technical Report

Jacinda Ardern on ‘Redefining successful government”

In a speech while in New York Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has outlined what she sees as successful government, as in her lofty agenda.

Redefining successful government

Speech at International Conference on Sustainable Development

I began preparing my comments for today’s event while sitting at my constituency office in Auckland, New Zealand…

You could say the artefacts I sit amongst in that office sum up my life in politics.  It started with my family, has been full of role models and support, but ultimately is motivated by the idea that politics is a place you can address injustice.

I was raised the daughter of a policeman, and was a product of the 1980s where New Zealand went through a rapid period or privatisation and economic liberalisation. We called it Rogernomics after our Finance Minister of the time, in America the same phenomenon was called Reaganonmics, and the impact on working families was similar. Jobs were lost, manufacturing moved off shore, regulations removed and the gap between rich and poor rapidly expanded.

Then came the 1990s. A conservative government in New Zealand introduced reforms that brought user pay to the fore and welfare cuts for the poorest.

I was young when all of this was happening around me, but I still remember it. If it’s possible to build your social conscience when you are a school girl, then that is what happened to me. I never looked at the world through the lens of politics though, but rather through the lens of fairness.

And that sentiment captures one of the most pervasive values that we have in Aotearoa New Zealand. We are proud but also self-deprecating. Dreamers but also pragmatists. And if there is one thing we hate, it is injustice.

These are the values I believe we need to display in our politics. Because politics is increasingly a dirty word, but values are not.

An earnest politician would be hard pressed to argue with goals like halving poverty, preserving the sustainability of our oceans or inclusive education.

And we’ve started by redefining what success looks like.

Traditionally, success or failure in politics has been measured in purely economic terms. Growth, GDP, your trade deficit and the level of debt you carry. On those terms, you would call New Zealand relatively successful. But in the last few years the deficiency of such measures has become stark.

So we are establishing brand new measure of national achievement that go beyond growth.

Like many, New Zealand has not been immune to a period of rapid and transformational change these past few decades. Globalisation has changed the way we operate, but it has also had a material difference on the lives of our citizens.

Not everyone has been well served by those changes, however.

While at a global level economic growth has been unprecedented, the distribution of benefits has been uneven at the level of individuals and communities. In fact for many, the transition our economy made in the wake of globalisation has been jarring,

Now as politicians, we all have choices in how we respond to these challenges.

We’re investing more in research and development so that we improve the productivity of our economy, we’re focusing on shifting away from volume to value in our export, and we are committed to lifting wages.

We are modernising our Reserve Bank so that it works to keep both inflation and keeps unemployment low, and we’re committed to a better balanced and fairer tax system.

But we also need to do better at lifting the incomes of New Zealanders and sharing the gains of economic growth.

We are signing pay equity settlements with new groups of predominantly women workers, taking the pressure off families by extending paid parental leave to half a year, closing the gender pay gap and raising the minimum wage.

When fully rolled out our Families Package – a tax credit policy aimed at low and middle income earners – will lift thousands of children out of poverty.

But economic gains and growth matter for nothing if we sacrifice our environment along the way, or if we fail to prepare for the future. That’s why we are transitioning to a clean, green carbon neutral New Zealand.

But of course, we are nothing without our people. We have set ourselves some big goals, like ensuring that everyone who is able is either earning, learning, caring or volunteering – including making the first year of tertiary study completely free of fees.

We’re supporting healthier, safer and more connected communities, ensuring everyone has a warm, dry home, and last but not least, making New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child.

This agenda is personal to me.

I am the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction.

If I were to sum up our agenda though, it would be simple. I want to demonstrate that politics doesn’t have to be about three or four year cycles. It doesn’t have to be self-interested or have a singular focus.

It can think about long term challenges, and respond to them. It can be designed to think about the impact on others, and show that it’s making a difference. And it can even be kind.

As an international community I am constantly heartened by our ability to take a multilateral approach, to sign up to a set of aspirations that are values based.

But perhaps it’s time to also challenge ourselves to move beyond aspiration to action.

That is what we will be doing in our corner of the world.

And I can assure you we will never, never, never give up.

Highly idealistic. It will be good if some of this can be achieved reasonably well over time.

This is in stark contrast to the succession of problems of competence the government is having to deal with back here while she is away in New York – the realities of politics can be quite different to the lofty speech written rhetoric.

Ardern has already stumbled on her ideal of ‘open transparent government’, this has blown up further in her absence this week.

She has admirable goals, and is adept at talking the talk, but the challenge for her and her government will be walking the walk. They seem to be stumbling somewhat more than she cares to admit.

It will take time to see whether New Zealand will improve noticeably under Ardern’s leadership. If things like inequality, child poverty and climate change are substantially improved she will have done very well, but it will take much more than successful speeches on the world stage.

Treasury admits ‘child poverty’ forecast error

Quantifying the number of children in poverty has always been contentious, with a variety of measures being made. There have been political claims of both overstating and trying to ignore the problem.

Now Treasury admits blunder over child poverty

The number of children to be lifted out of poverty by the Government’s Families Package is likely to be less than previously forecast because of an embarrassing blunder by Treasury.

The Treasury had projected that 88,000 fewer children would be in poverty by 2021 using the a particular poverty measure (defined as living in a household with an income less than 50 per cent of median equivalised household income before deducting housing costs).

But owing to a coding error, it no longer stands by that projection.

However it will not have a new projection until the second half of February, Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf said.

“This is a deeply regrettable mistake and I apologise for it on behalf of the Treasury,” he said.

“The Treasury holds itself to high standards and I’m disappointed to have not me those standards here.”

He also said that the error applied equally to comparisons with the previous Government’s Family Incomes Package and so the estimated relative impact of the two packages was essentially the same.

The Treasury had projected that National’s package would have lifted 49,000 children out of poverty by the same measure by the same time.

“The error likely led to an overstatement of the projected impact both packages would have on the reduction of child poverty, Makhlouf said.

The Government was told about the error on Monday.

The revelation comes just two weeks before the introduction of child poverty reduction legislation, the flagship bill of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction.

It won’t affect the bill itself which will require Governments to set and monitor poverty measures – but it will almost certainly affect debate around it.

I doubt this will change much if anything of Government aims and intentions, but it shows how difficult it can be to measure real levels of hardship.

Ardern wants cross-parliament support for anti-poverty measures

The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants to avoid political bickering over putting some priorities on reducing child poverty levels. She will set ‘flexible targets’ later this week. I wish her luck with that, but  National campaigned on reducing poverty so should broadly support further measures if they make sense.

Stuff:  PM Jacinda Ardern hints the Government will set flexible child poverty reduction targets

The Prime Minister has strongly hinted the Government will set child poverty reduction targets with enough flexibility to make it hard for the Opposition to vote against them.

In her weekly press conference Jacinda Ardern, who is also the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction, said legislation for child poverty targets would be announced on Thursday and she wanted to steer away from the issue being seen as “political”.

“I think most people would agree that regardless of the political party you’re in we all have a goal to improve the wellbeing of kids. What I want to see is successive Governments commit to focusing on lifting children out of poverty.”

Ardern said her bill, which would be introduced in the new year, came out of recommendations from the Children’s Commissioner, not her own party.

“In my mind that was a good starting point to try and build some consensus”.

“My view is that we will not get a long standing consensus on issues like child poverty and like climate change until we can get over the three-yearly political cycle.”

As a result Ardern said she had drafted the bill keeping in mind “what is most likely to succeed in Parliament” to try and get Opposition support.

While there should be some debate and, if genuinely warranted, holding to account, but it would be good to see Parliament working positively to address problems with deprivation, especially involving children.

“In approaching child poverty we want to make sure this isn’t just a slogan,” said English.

“The practicalities are that after the Government’s done the package on the first of April they won’t have anymore money to do anything about lifting incomes, and they don’t seem to be that interested in dealing with the social dysfunction that keeps families in poverty.

“Whatever target they set it will be impossible for them to lift incomes beyond the number of kids who come out of poverty from this first package. They won’t have the cash to do a second round because they’ve spent all the money on tertiary,” he said.

That’s a bit of a negative prelude from English.

Much may depend on the details of the package that Ardern announces later this week.

Labour’s Janus faces

Gareth Morgan has been in trouble for suggesting, in a sexist tweet, that Jacinda Ardern has the face of a pig.

If I were to characterise the Labour Party of the Ardern era, then I would use a different metaphor. I think that the party is a little like the Roman god Janus, who had two faces.
Janus was a confusing, and perhaps confused, god. While one of his faces smiled, the other might scowl. While one of his tongues spoke sweetly, the other might curse.
Jacinda Ardern is a talented and charismatic leader who has brought a smile and a message of hope to the election campaign. She is deservedly surging in the polls.

But at the same time as Ardern smiles and promotes progressive ideas like reducing child poverty and ameliorating Auckland’s housing crisis, Labour continues to run a troubling crusade against both immigration and immigrants. Labour has for the last couple of years been complaining that too many immigrants are entering New Zealand, and the party’s election manifesto promises to cut migrant numbers by almost half.

I disagree with Labour’s plans to cut immigration, but I accept that New Zealanders have the right to debate the subject, and that our various political parties have the right to put forward different policies on the subject.

What I find very ugly, and very ominous, is the rhetoric that Labour has used when it has promoted its immigration policy.

Labour has blamed, without evidence, problems as different including New Zealand’s high youth suicide rate and Auckland’s gridlocked roads on recent migrants to this country. And as they campaign for re-election the party’s MPs continue to use language that stigmatises and dehumanises migrants. In a recent forum of parliamentary candidates, for example, MP Louisa Wall complained that National had ‘flooded’ the country with ‘low-quality’ migrants. By using the word ‘flooded’ Wall compared migrants to a natural disaster, and suggested that New Zealanders’ safety is threatened by the new arrivals. When she used the phrase ‘low-quality’, Wall likened tens of thousands of migrants to defective goods, or inefficient machines. Without having met the vast majority of these people, she is ready to characterise them as less than fully human, and as undeserving of New Zealand citizenship.

Opinion polling shows that a huge majority of New Zealanders dislike Donald Trump and the policies he has pursued as American president. Trump’s ally and ambassador to New Zealand was booed by crowds when he drove from Wellington’s airport to his embassy. A number of Labour politicians have criticised the xenophobia of the Trump regime. Yet Labour, like Trump, is calling for drastic cuts to immigration. And Labour, like Trump, is using irresponsible and ugly rhetoric against migrants.

If Jacinda Ardern is serious about running a positive and hopeful election campaign, why won’t she stop the verbal attacks on new New Zealanders, and reverse Labour’s Trump-like policy on migration? I wouldn’t vote for Trump, and I can’t vote for Labour as long as the party runs this Janus-faced campaign.


Post by Scott Hamilton

Greens ‘key to ending child poverty’

The Green Party continues their ‘change the government’ approach  in response to the Salvation Army’s 10th ‘state of the nation’ report.


The latest Salvation Army report reinforces the need for a new Government committed to action on the biggest issues facing New Zealand, the Green Party said today.

The 10th State of the Nation report from The Salvation Army, Off the Track, released today shows entrenched rates of child poverty, the highest prison muster ever, and an alarming lack of safe and affordable housing.

“The barriers that many New Zealanders are facing to living a happy life are not being addressed by this National Government,” Green Party Co-Leader Metiria Turei said.

“Child poverty has become ‘normal’, prison numbers are up, and putting a roof over your family’s head is becoming harder and harder. This isn’t the New Zealand we know and love.

“The Green Party has the solutions to ending child poverty in New Zealand, by increasing incomes, ensuring secure housing, having school lunches available for the kids that need them and many other policy initiatives.

“The thousands of children growing up in poverty right now can’t wait any longer; their health and education is seriously impacted by inadequate standards of living, leading to huge downstream costs for us all.

“John Key said he wanted to address child poverty this Parliamentary term, but failed to. Now the challenge to Prime Minister Bill English is to do better by our kids.

“The progress of a country cannot be measured just by GDP growth; it has to be measured by living standards that enable people to reach their potential and participate in our society. At the moment, lots of us aren’t.

“National’s refusal to implement the solutions needed is leading to skyrocketing emergency financial support, with more and more New Zealanders struggling to keep food on the table. The sheer amount of last-ditch financial assistance that people are having to rely upon is scary, and exemplifies runaway inequality.

“Millions of New Zealanders care about the lives of children and know that we are all in this together. The Salvation Army State of the Nation report is evidence that New Zealand works better when it’s working for everyone,” Mrs Turei said.

Salvation Army ‘state of the nation’

The Salvation Army has put out their 10th annual ‘state of the nation’ report. They have titled it “Off the Track.


Executive Summary

The title of the 2017 State of the Nation report is, in part, inspired by the famous Robert Frost poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’. The final verse of this poem reads:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I— I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This poem describes the choice of which route or track to take, and acknowledges that this single choice made all the difference to what happened subsequently.

And so it is with our national life—the policy route chosen by a Government can make all the difference to what happens subsequently in our collective and individual fortunes.

The National-led Governments of the past eight years have made it very clear that their priority was economic growth and the increase in job numbers and the expansion of incomes that may attend this growth. And this has occurred —especially over the past five years. Such success should be acknowledged both as social progress in its own right and for the opportunities it offers for other sorts of social progress.

However, it is the lack of these other sorts of social progress that most concerns The Salvation Army and, no doubt, many other New Zealanders. This concern has given rise to the focus of this report. We ask: Are we still on the path or track to a shared prosperity as a national community, or have we started to wander off this track?

Three stark conclusions emerge for us from the data and analysis offered in this report:

  1. We have failed to put a dent in rates of child poverty over the past decade.
  2. Our efforts to reduce the prison population have failed and we are planning to expand the already record high prison population by a further 18%.
  3. Housing investment and speculation have been allowed to distort the economy, make us still more indebted, and create levels of homelessness unseen in more than a generation.

We believe the evidence to support these three claims is clear and unequivocal, and some of this evidence is offered in this report.

No matter how we choose to measure child poverty, the emerging conclusion is that nothing much has changed in child poverty rates despite continued economic growth and political rhetoric. A commonly used child poverty measure suggests that 20% of New Zealand’s children (or 212,000 children) live in relative income poverty, while perhaps 8% (or about 85,000 children) face severe material hardship. These numbers are little changed from a decade ago.

salvationarmy-the-children

While a reliable way of measuring crime rates continues to elude us, it does appear that levels of offending are falling. For example, the number of adults convicted of an offence fell from 90,700 in 2010/11 to 64,600 in 2015/16. Despite this fall, New Zealand’s prison population has grown from 8,400 at the end of 2011 to almost 10,000 by the end of 2016. Furthermore, in October 2016, Government announced a $1 billion plan to expand prisons by a further 1,800 beds.

salvationarmy-crime-and-punishment

Auckland’s housing bubble continued to grow during 2016, with the median house price jumping 12% to almost $854,000. Median house prices New Zealandwide grew 12% during 2016 as well, indicating that Auckland’s housing pressures are spreading elsewhere. Alongside these price increases, rents have also increased—growing by around 25% over the past five years, while average wages have risen by half this amount. There is considerable regional variation in these rent increases, with Auckland rent increases slowing recently, while rents in the Waikato have suddenly jumped.

As could perhaps be expected, this rapid increase in house prices has been supported by growing household indebtedness. By September 2016, household debt amounted to 96% of GDP and 160% of disposable household income—both are record highs.

The Government’s strategy has been to drive economic growth, and through this expand job opportunities and incomes. Over the past five years, it has delivered on this strategy—with jobs growing by more than 12% to over 2.5 million and average weekly incomes of employees growing 9% to $987 per week at the end of 2016.

But more jobs and better incomes for those with jobs are not the only contributor to social progress. It is difficult seeing social progress if homeownership rates continue to fall and homelessness becomes more prevalent. A growing prison population is the antipathy of social progress. It is difficult seeing social progress in persistent rates of child poverty—even as the economy grows robustly.

As Robert Frost deduced, the choices made in the past make all the difference to the life we end up living. This is as true of nations as it is of individuals. It appears to The Salvation Army that, either by neglect or silence, we have made political and social choices that have paid scant regard to the interests and future of thousands of New Zealanders —especially our young. This neglect or silence needs to be recognised and addressed if we are to get back on track.

Alan Johnson | Social Policy Analyst Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit

> Download the 2017 Off the Track Report (PDF, 2.37MB)

> Download the 2017 Off the Track Report Summary (PDF, 40.5KB)

Just more money isn’t enough

Judith Collins has stirred up a storm with her parental responsibility comments.

“It’s not that, it’s people who don’t look after their children, that’s the problem.

“And they can’t look after their children in many cases because they don’t know how to look after their children or even think they should look after their children.”

Monetary poverty was not the only problem, she said.

“I see a poverty of ideas, a poverty of parental responsibility, a poverty of love, a poverty of caring.”

As the MP for Papakura, she saw a lot of those problems in south Auckland, she said.

“And I can tell you it is not just a lack of money, it is primarily a lack of responsibility.

“I know that is not PC, but, you know, that’s me.”

– RNZ

There has been an uproar, including stupid misrepresentations like this at the Standard:

I see a poverty of ideas and a poverty of Government responsibility

Judith Collins yesterday said that child poverty is the fault of parents and not the fault of her Government.

That is quite clearly different to what Collins said. It is either a sloppy misunderstanding, or a deliberate misrepresentation.

While what she said was provocative and de-emphasised too much a lack of money as a problem for many people – money is a major problem for many good parents – what she said will be agreed with by many people.

The thing is that simply ensuring that poor people have more money on it’s own is not enough.

Many parents would use more money responsibly and for the benefit of their children, so more money is all that they need.

But there is a significant number of parents who smoke too much, drink too much, take drugs and all this is to the detriment of their finances and their children. Some simply don’t care about the well being of their children.

So simply giving some parents more money is going to do little or nothing for their their children.

Child ‘poverty’ is a complex issue and socialist style no questions asked equal income/equal housing/equal opportunities is not a practical nor workable solution.

Child poverty target versus targets

There has been an ongoing argument in Parliament this week about how to target child poverty after the Children’s Commissioner suggested an overall target of reducing it by 5-10% in a year.

1 News: Key shuns Children’s Commissioner’s child poverty target

A target promoted by Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft  to reduce child poverty has been rejected by Prime Minister John Key who says it’s not as simple as that.

The new Children’s Commissioner says politicians should put aside politics and agree to reduce child poverty by five to 10 per cent next year.

Debate on this continued yesterday in Question Time, with Metiria Turei pressing John Key on a single target, while Key insisted it was far more complex than that and that the Government had a number of poverty targets.

Draft transcript:

Prime Minister—Government Policies

2. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Ka tū a ia i runga i te mana o ngā kaupapa here katoa o tāna Kawantatanga?

[Does he stand by all his Government’s policies?]

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister still believe, as he said in this House yesterday, that it is better and more effective for the Government to set individual targets on components of child poverty rather than a specific child poverty reduction target?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Metiria Turei: When the Prime Minister talked yesterday about the Better Public Services targets, like rheumatic fever and early childhood education, did he know that the expert advisory group on child poverty provided a comprehensive list of 51 child poverty – related indicators, including both of those?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, but that is exactly the point, is it not? Last week the member was saying that the target should have 17—today she seems to be saying it is 51. For the last while she has been saying that the number of children is 360,000 and then she said yesterday that she wanted to accept that the Government’s number of 85,000—or at least, 60,000 to 100,000—was correct. She is all over the map, and that is the point. The Government is far better to approach—

Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. He has not addressed the question, and has instead talked about a Green Party position, which he has no authority over.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. When the Prime Minister rose to answer the question he addressed the question immediately. He certainly has gone on to enlarge on that answer, which is probably unnecessary, but he certainly answered the question immediately.

Metiria Turei: When the Prime Minister committed to his Government using individual indicators and targets to address child poverty, did he mean that he would adopt the expert advisory group’s recommendations for a comprehensive list of child poverty – related indicators?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What the Government did—and, I think, quite correctly—was to say that poverty is a very complicated issue, but that there are some individual component parts which, if the Government focuses resources on and gives attention to, can make significant gains. We are doing that in terms of rheumatic fever. We are doing that in terms of the number of children being immunised. We are doing that in terms of the number of children having access to early childhood education. We are doing that in terms of the number of teenage pregnancies, with young mums on the equivalent of the domestic purposes benefit. I think it is far more sensible for the Government to approach this issue in a systematic and thorough way, dealing with each of these issues, rather than the member spending, as she wants to, her lifetime dreaming up some dodgy number that she knows is wrong.

Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was an unnecessary and personal attack—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I could not hear correctly what the point of order is.

Metiria Turei: I take personal offence at that personal attack on my integrity, and I ask him to withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not think that the final part of the answer was helpful to the order of the House; I accept that. But I hardly think it was a personal attack on the member.

Metiria Turei: So will the Prime Minister expand the Better Public Services targets to include all of those other indicators that experts have said contribute to child poverty, such as household crowding, infant mortality, self-harm and suicide by children, and serious skin infections?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I doubt we would have an individual Better Public Services target for each one, or there would be so many individual targets that it might lose some of its meaning. All of those issues are on the Government’s radar, and all of them are getting attention.

Metiria Turei: When the Prime Minister is refusing to establish official measurements of child poverty, and also will not set targets for a comprehensive list of child poverty – related outcomes, is he not really telling the country that he will avoid any attempt to identify, to measure, or to reduce child poverty in New Zealand?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Quite the opposite. This is the first Government in the history of this Parliament that has had a list of Better Public Services targets and has been quite happy to be measured against them, and has set those targets in quite challenging areas. The Government produces a raft of different measures and reports in relation to poverty and income, including the longitudinal study by Bryan Perry, which shows that income inequality is not getting worse. The reason the member does not quote it is that she does not like it, because it does not suit her arguments.

Metiria Turei: So what has changed since 2012, when the Prime Minister said: “If you don’t measure, monitor and report on things, I don’t think you can make progress.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Absolutely nothing, and that is why the Government has these individual targets and has a range of different measures. But it is not this Government; there has been longstanding advice from officials that one single measure of poverty in this country would be an inappropriate way of dealing with it.

 

 

Marriage versus De Facto relationships

Family First claims that a drop in marriage rates is one of the main drivers of child poverty. I’m not sure they have this right.

Stuff: Lobby group Family First blames unmarried couples for child poverty

An unmarried couple with children is highly likely to be struggling in poverty, a conservative lobby group claims. 

The claim comes from a new report by researcher and artist Lindsay Mitchell, who said there was “overwhelming and incontrovertible” evidence that a drop in marriage rates was one of the main drivers of an increase in child poverty.

The glossy report, funded by conservative Christian lobby group Family First, looked at household income and family structures from the 1960s to the current day.

A heck of a lot has changed in New Zealand society since the 1960s. I have major doubts over marriage rates being such a big factor.

It states that with people having fewer children than in the past and people delaying birth until they were older, families should be better off financially, but that was not the case.

A lot of families are better off financially, especially those that have fewer children and have families when they are older.

“Despite marriage being the best protector against child poverty it has become politically unfashionable – some argue insensitive – to express such a view.

“But if there is to be any political will to solve child poverty the issue has to be confronted.”

Bollocks.

A stable family with two parents in a relationship and with a steady and reasonable level of income are certainly significant factors.

Whether the parents are married or not is largely irrelevant. Marriage is a legal document and a social custom but it has become optional and unnecessary for a good family environment.

Unsurprisingly, single-parent families were described as the poorest in New Zealand.

Single parent families are naturally going to find things tougher financially generally – although no always, a married couple with one partner an alcoholic or drug addict or in prison will tend towards being poorer.

But currently, 27 per cent of registered births were to cohabiting, or de facto, parents.

Mitchell said these relationships became less stable over time, the parents were poorer than married parents and separation by the time a child was aged five was four to six times greater than married parents.

I don’t see any reason why a de facto relationship should become more unstable over time than a marriage relationship.

A legal marriage will have little effect on the strength of a relationship.

Citing an Australian study, the report suggests married men earned a substantially higher wage than a cohabiting man and worked substantially longer hours.

But that could mean that higher earners were more likely to get married.

The cost of marriage can be a deterrent to poorer people.

I know of stable two parent families that put more priority on providing for their current needs than forking out thousands of dollars on a wedding that they would quite like but are happy to postpone.

But The Family Centre social policy researcher Charles Waldergrave said that to simply say that married people’s children were better off was a misuse of statistics.

“You can’t just correlate things and then start talking about causality, you just can’t do it that way.

“The fact that married people and people in de facto relationships earn different amounts of money doesn’t make it causal in terms of child poverty.”

That’s right.

Middle-class people were more likely to get married while de facto relationships were more common in lower-income households, but factors such as the economy affected both.

The main causes of child poverty was not a lack of marriages, but things like low incomes, the casualisation of work and the benefit system, he said.

“Poverty is essentially the access to resources and in a capitalist society that depends on income.”

And something that has changed significantly since the 1960s (fifty years ago) is we have become a far more consumerist society. This affects families whether parents are married or not.

The cost of weddings – how many people want to get married – is huge for lower income earners. Without the social pressure to get married it’s easy to postpone a spending spree that is actually unnecessary.  It’s an optional extra.

Mitchell said her aim with the research was not to ruffle feathers, but present information so it could be debated.

Many of those in de facto relationships were in their second and third relationships, supporting children from previous partners.

Remarriage and blended families with marriage involved are also common.

While cohabiting parents were more likely to have only one child, they were also more likely than married couples to have four or more.

Which means?

They were also much less stable than married couples, although Mitchell was unsure why.

That’s very poorly stated.

Many de facto relationships are as stable as many married relationships.

Of course some de facto relationships will be less stable than many married relationships, they can (but far from always) involve far less commitment.

If marriage was made compulsory it wouldn’t transform poor partners into reliable partners.

Poor partners are less likely to get married. It may be no more than that.

“Child poverty has become a really big issue and everyone is concerned about it…but we don’t hear anyone talking about the change in family structure.”

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie described the link between a drop in marriage and rise in child poverty as the “elephant in the room”.

“People would like to believe that there isn’t [a link] but unfortunately. the research shows de facto or cohabiting relationships are less stable.”

But in the 1960s it is very likely that shotgun weddings – or rushed marriages precipitated by pregnancy – would have had a higher proportion of  unstable relationships than carefully planned marriages and families.

As far as marriage is concerned probably all that has changed as the relationships least likely to endure never involve marriage any more.

A forced marriage with a dysfunctional relationship in which society puts pressure on for the  marriage to continue regardless of obvious problems – sometimes quite serious problems – is not a good solution.

Family First has raised some important issues – but if they really wanted debate rather than simply to promote their ideal of Marriage First then they would have presented their research without jumping to poorly supported solutions that simply fitted their last century world view.

New Zealand society has changed enormously over the last half century. Trying to force things back to some idealistic model of marriage is not a good way to address the obvious issues we currently have.

Encouraging and supporting better relationships and more responsible parenting- whether married or de facto – is surely a far better approach.