Paula Bennett has been very stubborn regarding calls to measure child poverty. She used to claim they are a Government that does things rather than just measuring things, but she has been asked so often that she now states that they use multiple measurements for poverty. When questioned about what those measurements are and the progress against them, Bennett refuses to give a straight answer.
Regarding a child poverty strategy, the Government obviously has none and resorts to listing the money spent on immunisation, insulating homes and dealing with child abuse. While all the initiatives are useful they hardly constitute a strategy and, in the case of the home insulation scheme, it still hasn't had an impact on the cheaper rental housing that most poor families live in. Obviously most initiatives are just addressing the symptoms of poverty and the real causes are being ignored.
The Government now appears to be alone in thinking that they are being effective in addressing child poverty, with a continual stream of NGOs and authorities exposing failure:
- An expert group set up by the Children's Commissioner expressed concern that the Government has only partly addressed 23 of the 78 recommendations from their landmark report on the issue. The co-chair Professor Jonathan Boston described the Government's efforts as "at best I would call it 'modest'."
- The Children's Commissioner decided to publish his own stocktake of child poverty after the Government refused to. It shows hospital admissions linked to poverty are continuing to rise with tens of thousands being admitted every year with respiratory and infectious diseases associated with living in damp, overcrowded homes. 1 in 4 children are 'mired' in poverty and 1 in 6 children are going without the basic necessities like a bed or having enough food. Those who have a single parent relying on a benefit are more likely to be worse off, but 2 out of 5 are living in working families.
- The latest PISA assessment has New Zealand getting the worst education rankings since the assessment began with a substantial decline under this Government. Inequality and poverty are seen as the main contributing factors and even the National Standards data, flawed that they are, revealed that the decile of a school largely determined the levels of achievement. Under National, New Zealand has one of the fastest growth rates of inequality in the OECD
- A UNICEF New Zealand report has found that New Zealand has some way to go to meet its obligations under the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child that we signed 20 years ago. The report called 'Kids Missing Out - time to make progress on children" identified that 270,000 children are having to survive without adequate income or housing. When Jan Logie questioned the lack of Government priority given to children's rights, Bennett replied, "I do not agree that it is a lower priority." She also dismissed the concerns of the Child Commissoner, UNICEF and the Child Poverty Action Group, "They can have any perspective they like, that's their right, they're independent, that's the beauty of living in a democracy."
- While Paula Bennett had been claiming child abuse was dropping, it turns out that the Ministry of Social Development had been under-reporting and there is actually an increase in levels of abuse. The number of children being neglected by their caregivers has actually soared and is 60% higher than official reports.
Levels of child abuse are soaring, inequality is growing at a faster rate than most OECD countries and our ranking in educational achievement has plummeted. The Government refuses to measure child poverty, has no strategy to address it and has no meaningful way of reporting on progress. While Paula Bennett may disagree with with all the criticisms of her Government's performance she has no reliable evidence to prove otherwise.