One in five New Zealand children live in poverty, report finds

Other News Materials 7 August 2008 07:49 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - One in five New Zealand children live below the poverty line, a children's agency said Thursday.

Half of all children in one-parent families, four out of 10 in the Pacific island population and 27 per cent of indigenous Maori youngsters live in poverty, Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro said.

Her report on a survey with the Barnados child welfare organization put the total number of poor children in the country of nearly 4.3 million at 230,000.

"Ignoring them threatens our future economic prosperity and social well-being," warned Kiro, who heads the Office of the Children's Commissioner, an agency that was created by the government but is run independently from the government.

The report identified the poverty line as one adult and one child living on less than 430 New Zealand dollars (about 310 US dollars) a week.

"Poverty has lifelong consequences for children," Kiro said. "Children born into poor households are more likely to have poorer educational outcomes, a higher risk of dying during childhood. They are more likely to be sick, they face higher risks of physical abuse and neglect, and children born into poverty are more likely to be poor themselves."

John Bowis, executive director of the non-profit Save the Children New Zealand, said a significant number of youngsters were still paying the price of reforms of the 1980s and 1990s that restructured the economy.

During that time, child poverty and economic inequality rose in New Zealand more than in any other country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, he said.

Analysts said the report would embarrass the Labour Party, which has led-coalition governments since 1999 and plans to seek another three-year term at this year's general election.

Ruth Dyson, minister for social development and employment, said Labour had lifted 130,000 children out of poverty through tax relief, paid parental leave, cheaper doctors fees, a raise in the minimum wage and a reduction in unemployment.

"There is always more to be done and this government is committed to working on this issue, focussing on delivering good quality education, employment opportunities and adequate support for all families with children," she said.