New child poverty statistics from Stats NZ paint an optimistic picture for the period before the 2020 Covid lockdowns, Monte Cecilia Housing Trust CEO Bernie Smith says, but the months since then have been brutal for low income earners and government support is desperately needed.
“We’re always happy to see those arrows going in the right direction and I think the government is to be commended for what they had accomplished up to that point,” Bernie says.
“But those numbers no longer reflect the situation on the ground – the economic fallout from Covid hit New Zealand’s low-income families incredibly hard and we’ve seen the level of need in our communities skyrocket. We went from getting 10-15 calls a week to 20-30 a day.”
“Rising living costs, particularly rents, have combined with job instability to create really difficult situations for a lot of families. Stats NZ’s data shows that inflation has been three-times higher for beneficiaries and where there has been wage growth it hasn’t been evenly shared with lower income groups.”
This is also the second year Stats NZ has produced child poverty statistics for different ethnic groups, making it possible to see how poverty rates for different groups have changed over time.
“The decision to track stats by ethnic group has produced some really confronting results. The degree to which child poverty disproportionately affects Māori and Pacific Island families has made for sobering reading, and Covid has only added fuel to the fire.”
In the year ended June 2020, 19 per cent of Māori children and 25.4 per cent of Pacific children lived in households that reported going without six or more of the 17 basic needs. These rates compared with 11 per cent for all New Zealand children.
“Increased government support for low-income families is desperately needed if we’re going to confront the growing inequality in our society. That much is clear, but doing so is actually a position with a lot of public support,” Bernie said.
A recent poll commissioned by a super-group of NGOs (including Monte Cecilia) showed seven out of ten (69%) of New Zealanders agree ‘the Government should increase income support for those on low incomes and not in paid work’.
“Covid has caused a lot of damage across the world but it also showed New Zealanders that we’re capable of incredible things when we work together. This problem is solvable and the public is overwhelmingly behind the government taking bold action to do so,” Bernie says.