Ardern’s record on child poverty

UNICEF has just ranked New Zealand near the bottom of OECD countries for ‘child wellbeing outcomes’.

Jacinda Ardern made a big deal out of child poverty when she became Prime Minister. She appointed herself Minister for Child Poverty Reduction.

She has responded to the UNICEF rankings saying their rankings are based on ‘old data’ from when National was in Government, and things are getting better.

How well has she done on child poverty?

I posted in November 2017 Eliminating’ (reducing) child poverty:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has virtually staked her political career on reducing poverty.

Image

In her ‘Speech from the Throne’ in November 2017:

In the last nine years, New Zealand has changed a great deal. Ours is a great country still. But it could be even greater. In our society today, no one should have to live in a car or on the street. No one should have to beg for their next meal. No child should be experiencing poverty. That kind of inequality is degrading to us all.

This will be a government of transformation. It will lift up those who have been forgotten or neglected, it will take action on child poverty and homelessness…

Child poverty is a moral issue but it is also an economic one. Infometrics has estimated that poor investment in children in their early years costs the country between $6 billion and
$8 billion per annum.

This government will put child poverty at the heart of government policy development and decision-making. It will establish targets to reduce the impact of child poverty and it will put these into law.  A work programme will be put in place across all relevant areas of government to achieve these targets.  Heads of government departments will be required to work together to deliver real reductions in child poverty.

To deliver genuine change for children, transparent mechanisms are needed to hold the government to account on poverty reduction. 

Ardern mentioned ‘poverty’ 14 times.

A year later (December 2018): 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.

“The 2018 Child Poverty Monitor puts a spotlight on critical areas in a child’s life where poverty continues to have an adverse impact. The four areas of focus are health, food insecurity, education and housing.”

Click here for the Child Poverty Monitor: 2018 Technical Report

Something was being done about it: 119-1 support for Child Poverty Reduction Bill

All parties except ACT (David Seymour) voted in favour of the third reading (and final vote) of the Child Poverty Reduction Bill in Parliament yesterday.

NZ Herald: Child Poverty Reduction Bill passes third reading

The bill, which will set measures and targets for reducing child poverty, inform strategy to achieve that and require transparent reporting on poverty levels and introduce accountability for governments, was a cornerstone of Labour’s election campaign last year and on the list of achievements for the coalition Government’s first 100 days in office.

Speaking in Parliament today, Ardern said it was no longer just a Labour Party bill.

“This is now an initiative that has been led by a coalition Government with the support of New Zealand First and the Green Party.

“And it also is an initiative that has had the support of the National Party. I want to acknowledge that. This is this Parliament’s collective challenge, and the groups that have come together in Parliament today to support it in this House mean that it will have an enduring legacy”.

That seems like reasonable success getting National alongside the three Government parties.

But in 2019: Budget falls short of child poverty targets

This year’s budget was promoted as a Wellbeing Budget, but it has been criticised for not moving far enough towards addressing things that will improve the well being of the less well off, especially children.

Newsroom:  Budget moves not nearly enough to meet child poverty targets

This is the first Budget under the new Child Poverty Reduction Act rules. 

So how did Grant Robertson go first time out? How much progress towards cutting poverty was there actually in the Budget? The short answer is a bit, but almost certainly not enough to meet all three short-term targets by the deadline of June 2021.

Approximately 55 percent of children in poverty live in households reliant on benefit as their main source of income. Indexation of the benefit to wages is an important long-term change, but indexation to inadequate basic rates is not enough. It will simply not be feasible to address child poverty without either (or both) raising benefit rates or the Working for Families tax credits paid to parents on benefit. We did not see either of these in this first Wellbeing Budget.

I noted:

The last government was already nudging things towards more ‘social conscience’ spending. The current government has nudged things a bit more. Perhaps they will push things further towards wellbeing in the next budget, which is in election year.

This year the budget was dominated by measures trying to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ardern’s 2020 Budget Speech did mention poverty:

We have long faced a housing crisis, our environment has been suffering, inequality and child poverty have all been issues we’ve had to tackle.

In three years’ time I want to look back and say that COVID was not the point those issues got worse, but the chance we had to make them better.

And that brings me to the last challenge, child poverty.

We know this has the potential to get even worse than where we are now. And while we moved quickly, even before lock down providing increasing government support to those out of work through benefit increases and the winter energy payment, today we focus on kids, with a major expansion of the food in schools programme.

We already started this programme last year, now we expand healthy lunches in schools so that for around 200,000 more children across the country benefit. Based on what we know, this will also create an estimated 2,000 jobs in local communities. And equally important it will mean in the tough days ahead we can guarantee our most vulnerable kids will get a filling healthy lunch every school day.

But that was a minor mention and Ardern followed it with.

Mr Speaker, I want to finish where I started. On our businesses, on our job creators, on our innovators and on those who have carried such a huge burden over these last weeks and months.

Mr Speaker, I said yesterday that this budget would be about jobs, jobs, jobs. In total it seeks to save as many as 140,000 of them over the next two years, and to support the growth of 370,000 more over four years.

This Budget shows how we are positioning New Zealand for that right now. It shows that we know this is not the time for business as usual, it’s the time for a relentless focus on jobs, on training, on education, and the role they all can play to support our environment, and our people.

So Mr Speaker, let’s begin our recovery and let’s rebuild, together

Word counts from the speech:

  • Poverty 2
  • Business 19
  • Jobs 23

Obviously business viability and jobs are important for family incomes and for the care of children, and Covid necessarily changed the Government focus a lot, But of the many billions of dollars spent on on Covid support most has been for propping up businesses and jobs, and little has directly addressed poverty issues.

Coming towards an election Ardern and Labour needed to be mainly focussed on dealing with Covid, and that seemed to dominate their campaign strategy, but yesterday UNICEF brought attention back to children.

RNZ: NZ ranked near bottom of UNICEF child wellbeing ratings

New Zealand is near the bottom of a UNICEF league table ranking wealthy countries on the wellbeing of their children.

Of the 41 OECD and European Union countries surveyed, New Zealand ranked 35th in overall child wellbeing outcomes – and UNICEF says that is failing children.

The UN Children’s Fund rankings show this country’s youth suicide rates are the second highest in the developed world, with 14.9 deaths per 100,000 adolescents, and only 64 percent of 15-year-olds have basic reading and maths skills.

The rankings also show too many children and young people in New Zealand are overweight and obese.

On mental wellbeing alone, New Zealand sits at 38th on the list and on physical health it is ranked 33rd.

NZ has ‘normalised inequality’

UNICEF NZ executive director Vivien Maidaborn said New Zealand’s rankings were driven by inequality.

“I think we normalise inequality. Somehow it’s alright that some families can’t afford homes and are living in motels and emergency housing. Somehow its alright that many of our lower socio-economic families can’t access high quality early childhood education. And then we wonder why we finish up with a statistic like only 64.5 percent of 15 year olds have got proficiency in reading and maths.

“Right now in Covid-19 there is a real worry we’re increasing inequality,” she told Morning Report.

She said while there were wage subsidies and mortgage holidays, there were no rent holidays, and the doubling of the winter energy payment was due to run out on 1 October.

“I just think we’re in danger of investing in the New Zealanders who already have wealth and assets and forgetting that the poorest New Zealanders, people living on benefits, are not being well supported.”

More from Maidment (and Chris Hipkins’ response to the ratings) from Stuff: New Zealand continues to fail children, Unicef report shows

Ardern issued a media release Prime Minister responds to child wellbeing report

A UNICEF report reflecting poor rates of child wellbeing in New Zealand between 2013 and 2018 underscores the Government’s work to break the cycle of child poverty.

“The report itself acknowledges in many cases data was missing or was several years old, largely painting a picture of the previous Government’s underinvestment in our families,” Prime Minister and Child Poverty Reduction Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“The report pre-dates our progress in rolling out the $5.5bn Families Package, setting child poverty targets, lifting 18,400 children from poverty, and improving seven out of nine child poverty measures.

“Our plan to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child is making a difference but there is more to do…

“That work is all under way, with 6000 young people contributing to our Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, the historic Child Poverty Reduction Act 2018, and the alignment of our goal to halve child poverty in a decade with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development goals.

“One of the things I’m very focused on through the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy is to systematically collect and publish data on a much broader range of child wellbeing indicators, which is why we invested $21 million in Budget 20 to measure persistent poverty.

“What’s important is that as a Government we keep making progress to ensure our children have a warm, dry home, access to healthcare, safe and healthy food, and the chance to have a childhood in which they’re free to learn and play,” Jacinda Ardern said.

(Edited)

But that was a defensive response.

A week ago Bryce Edwards compiled Political Roundup – Politicians making inequality worse

Inequality and poverty look to be the forgotten issues of the election campaign, with not much more than lip-service being paid to them on the campaign trail. Yet decisions are currently being made that appear to be fuelling a greater gap between rich and poor.

Newsroom’s Bernard Hickey has tweeted this week to sum up how the Government has chosen to manage the Covid-19 health and economic crisis: “This Covid-19 response has all been about bailing out property owners, helping banks, propping up zombie small businesses, big grants and loans to well-connected big businesses and middle class welfare via special Covid dole to higher-paid jobless. Not a team of 5 million at all.”

Hickey has elaborated on this in a column, saying the Government has made policy choices that have advantaged the rich and disadvantaged the poor, which will fuel higher levels of inequality: “without debate, the Labour-led Government has delivered the biggest shot of cash and monetary support to the wealthy in the history of New Zealand, while giving nothing to the renters, the jobless, students, migrants and the working poor who mostly voted it in” – see: NZ’s ‘K’ shaped Covid-19 recovery.

Hickey has also written today about housing inequality, arguing that the Government has chosen to prioritise the housing market in order to prevent a crash in values – see: Our housing market is too big to fail (paywalled). He believes the Government has chosen not to embark on “massive state house building”, nor implement a capital gains tax, because these might upset wealthy property owners.

Of course, the problems of inequality and poverty aren’t simply down to the Covid-19 crisis. At the last election, Labour, the Greens and NZ First campaigned strongly on inequality, pointing out that under nine years of National things had got worse for the poor and working people in a variety of ways.

Have these parties actually made a significant difference during their three years in power? There are signs that things haven’t improved much at all. The Government has largely chosen not to transform the economy or redistribute wealth in any meaningful way.

This was reflected in February when the official economic statistics were released, showing little change. Financial journalist Brian Fallow reported the details: “Data out this week on household incomes and housing costs make uncomfortable reading for both the Government and the Opposition. A centre-left Government should not be happy that in the year to June 2019 — its first full year in office — it has not moved the dial on income inequality at all. A standard measure of inequality, called the Gini coefficient, at 33.9 is as bad as it has been at any time in National’s last nine years in power and higher than it was before the global financial crisis” – see: Numbers show Government hasn’t moved the dial on income inequality at all (paywalled).

Fallow made the notable comment: “Neither the Government nor the Opposition is offering any plan to change that.”

A major problem with Covid that despite all the Government subsidies there is less work available and take home wages have decreased for many people, and this has impacted on the lower waged most. And that impacts on many children.

Ardern has a chance to address this with Labour’s campaign policies, but those will be political promises for the future. There’s a good chance Labour will have more unconstrained power next term, but under Ardern the Government has talked up transformation but under-delivered.

Leftwing blogger No Right Turn: Labour doesn’t care about the already poor.

While they talk about ‘kindness’ and ‘wellbeing’, when push comes to shove, they’re happy with existing inequalities, happy even to exacerbate them, happy with the underclass Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson created, happy with the status quo and all its injustices.

Because doing anything about any of those problems would mean them having to pay more tax on their $180K+ salaries, or on their property portfolios or family trusts, and that seems to be something which is simply unthinkable to them now.

Ardern has achieved a bit on child poverty this term but Covid may have reversed some of that.

The UNICEF report is timely – it should have reminded Ardern of her commitments on child poverty, and she will no doubt be reminded again through the campaign.

Three years ago:

This will be a government of transformation. It will lift up those who have been forgotten or neglected, it will take action on child poverty and homelessness…

Ardern managed only modest gains and some of those have been reversed by Covid.

Early in her first term she talked the transformation talk. We are waiting for a bold walk.

Labour wimped out on a number of major polices, like Kiwibuild and CGT, and underperformed on others like child poverty and homelessness.

Next term she won’t be able to blame National as much. She may not have Winston Peters holding her back. She may have the Greens pushing her for action.

Blog rankings January 2015

Rankings for the main political blogs that are registerd with Open Parachute. January is typically a lot quieter due to holidays and very little politics happening.

Whale Oil Beef Hooked

  • September: visits 3,716,364 page views 5,309,045
  • October: visits 2,008,487 page views 3,275,031
  • November: visits 1,776,421 page views 2,981,810
  • December: visits 1,764,050 page views 2,999,841
  • January 2015: visits 1,549,207 page views 2,771,035

Kiwiblog

  • September: visits 695,190 page views 1,093,806
  • October: visits 373,637 page views 604,405
  • November: visits 301,119 page views 522,519
  • December: visits 278,787 page views 515,827
  • January 2015: visits 232,512 page views 447,489

David Farrar was away on holiday in January and not posting for about a week.

The Standard

  • September: visits 429,438 page views 868,342
  • October: visits 255,449 page views 561,703
  • November: visits 194,646 page views 431,100
  • December: visits 182,211 page views 392,090
  • January 2015: 163,164 page views 356,129

The Daily Blog

  • September: visits 504,304 page views 813,779
  • October: visits 210,877 page views 347,647
  • November: visits 160,716 page views 259,736
  • December: visits 126,534 page views 203,1264
  • January 2015: 116,155 page views 188,868

Not all blogs supply Open Parachute with site statistics, notably Public Address and Pundit.

Open Parachute sitemeter rankings:

November’s top 4 blog rankings

Whale Oil seems to be a bit slower than usual to promote the latest Open Parachute blog stats.

Whale Oil Beef Hooked

  • September: visits 3,716,364 page views 5,309,045
  • October: visits 2,008,487 page views 3,275,031
  • November: visits 1,776,421, page views 2,981,810

It doesn’t look like Whale Oil have posted on this yet which suggests they don’t think there slide is good to publicise.

Kiwiblog

  • September: visits 695,190 page views 1,093,806
  • October: visits 373,637, page views 604,405
  • November: visits 301,119 page views 522,519

.David Farrar was on holiday for much of the month and his posting was substantially reduced.

The Standard

  • September: visits 429,438 page views 868,342
  • October: visits 255,449 page views 561,703
  • November: visits 194,646 page views 431,100

That’s a bit of a surpise, I though Labour’s leadership contest would keep them up.

The Daily Blog

  • September: visits 504,304 page views 813,779
  • October: visits 210,877 page views 347,647
  • November: visits 160,716 page views 259,736

Having pipped The Standard in election month The Daily Blog is slumping. It looks like Martyn Bradbury’s failure to come close to reality in his election picks has knocked the stuffing out of him and the blog.

Bradbury’s post today – So what does Cameron Slater have over John Key?  – has 7 votes and 3 comments, a very flat response.

Not all blogs supply Open Parachute with site statistics, notably Public Address.

Here the visits are down a bit but page views are up over 25% reflecting much more activity here – thanks for your support.

Open Parachute September and October and November Sitemeter rankings.