National | Jacinda Ardern

Grim poverty stats show many Māori and Pasifika children miss out on food

A disturbing new government report that shows 30% of Māori children and 46% of Pasifika children live in households where food runs out sometimes or often has been called “grim” by the Child Poverty Action Group.

The Child Poverty Related Indicators Report says 20% of children overall reported living in households where food runs out sometimes or often and 4% reported it was often.

"When one out of five children don’t have enough food to eat in Aotearoa New Zealand, that’s a chronic, mass emergency,” Child Poverty Action Group spokesperson Professor Emeritus Innes Asher says

"These are urgent issues - children cannot wait - and the government is moving too slowly. Small steps are not enough," Asher says.

"The Ka Ora Ka Ako food in schools programme will assist - and it’s a good policy - but it is not a magic bullet and doesn’t reach all hungry children throughout the year. Families simply need much more money to cover their essential costs."

The report shows many children and their families are experiencing damp unhealthy homes, food insecurity, and increasing housing cost stress. A third of families in social and state housing report damp, cold homes.

Robust measures wanted

"The report is mostly using pre-Covid data," Asher says. "We know that, due to government neglect, Covid-19 hit families in poverty harder than others. We need to see urgent, robust measures such as liveable incomes, so we can all be secure in the knowledge we are supporting families, not making their lives impossible."

Asher was a member of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group, which three years ago recommended all benefits be raised by considerable amounts. Some benefits have limited seen additions such as winter fuel payments.

"Polling shows our communities care and want the government to ensure families have liveable incomes - and that is an obvious, immediate step to stop many of these issues," he says.

Measuring poverty

The report says while the proportion of Māori and Pacific children living in houses where food runs out sometimes or often were 30% and 46%, children reporting it as often were 8% and 10%, respectively.

The report does say, however, there is some evidence that food insecurity decreased over 2012 to 2020 for Māori and Pacific.

The government uses five factors to measure its response to child poverty:

  • the percentage of children and young people (up to 17) living in households spending more than 30 percent of their disposable income on housing;
  • the percentage of children and young people (up to 17) living in households with a major problem with dampness or mould;
  • the percentage of children (up to 15) living in households reporting food runs out often or sometimes;
  • the percentage of children and young people (ages 6-16) who are regularly attending school; and
  • the rate of children (up to 15) hospitalised for potentially avoidable illnesses.

Most ‘doing well’

The Child Poverty Related Indicators Report reveals 32% of Māori households with children spent more than 30% of their disposable income on housing; in the case of Pacific households, this was 34%.

And while it says there is some evidence of a downward trend in the percentage of children in households with major dampness or mould, housing quality issues are more severe for Māori and Pacific children.

In 2019/20 the rate of potentially avoidable hospitalisations in 0-15 year olds was 49 per 1,000. This rate was higher for Māori and Pacific children - 56 and 72 per 1000 children respectively.

Regular school attendance was lower for Māori and Pacific children: 48% and 51%, respectively.

Child Poverty Reduction Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, and the Child Poverty Related Indicators Report released today highlight that most children and young people in New Zealand are doing well.

“However, there is still a group of children for whom life at home is quite different," she says. Prime Minister and Child Poverty Reduction Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Work ‘far from done’

Ardern, whose day job is as prime minister, says too many children live in low-income households or experience racism, bullying or violence.  “And overall, Māori, Pacific and disabled children and young people are more likely to experience worse outcomes.

“Many of the issues facing children, young people and their families are complex, stubborn and intergenerational, so we know change will take time, and will require sustained action across government and across our communities."

While Ardern says she is proud of her government's achievements, "the work is far from done."

"The results will take time but we will continue to build on progress, putting children and young people first, so that New Zealand really can be the best place in the world for them to be,” Ardern says.

Failed to deliver

Reducing child poverty was a flagship Ardern promise but the latest report shows that her government has failed to deliver on its promises, National’s spokesperson for Children Dr Shane Reti says.

“A government report shows there has been no measurable change in housing conditions, preventable hospitalisations or food security in the lives of our most vulnerable children.

“In 2017 Ardern promised Labour would lift 100,000 kids out of poverty by 2020. Instead what she has been able to deliver is 1500 more children living in poverty.

“The government’s inability to get New Zealand’s housing crisis under control is hurting vulnerable New Zealanders.

Hardship grants are skyrocketing under Labour, he says.

"They’re at the highest they have ever been at any point over the past five years.

For children to live better lives, their parents need to be able to get a job, Reti says.

"The so-called jobs plan Labour promised Kiwis is just more hot air. There have been many promises but hardly any jobs created.

“The Labour government’s inability to deliver is hurting already struggling New Zealanders.”