Wellington, January 4,2024
New Zealand is ranked 19 out of 39 countries on its progress in reducing child poverty.
UNICEF’s 18th Report Card, titled ‘Child Poverty in the Midst of Wealth,’ released last month, compared child poverty rates in high-income and upper middle-income countries in the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), using publicly available data.
The report assessed “the current state of child poverty and the progress – or lack of progress – that these countries made towards eliminating it.”
“A country’s ranking in the league table is based on absolute rates of child poverty and proportional change in child poverty rates over a seven-year period,” UNICEF Aotearoa CEO Michelle Sharp explained.
New Zealand’s ranking of 19 out of 39 countries “comprises its rank relating to progress in reducing child poverty (17 out of 39) and absolute child poverty rates (29 out of 39),” she pointed out.
Sharp was elated that the focus on child poverty alleviation in New Zealand was “starting to have a positive impact on our precious tamariki.”
“However, we still have a long way to go. Now is the time to double down on our efforts and ensure we have government-wide commitment to seeing numbers continue to trend downwards.”
But the report flagged New Zealand’s high rates of poverty amongst Maori and Pacific children (20% and 24%, respectively) when compared to children of European descent (around 8%).
It also noted children with disabilities were twice as likely to “live in material hardship” as children without disabilities.
The report found that children “living in a one-adult household were more than five times as likely to be in poverty” as other children.
“No level of child poverty is acceptable in New Zealand and we remain particularly concerned for Maori and Pacific children, children with disabilities and those living in single-parent households who are still suffering from unacceptably high levels and completely avoidable poverty,” Sharp observed.
The UNICEF report described cash benefits as “among the most effective ways to support children and families and alleviate child poverty.”
UNICEF Aotearoa called on the government to “establish a roadmap to a universal child payment up to age 18 by 2030,” as well as “maintain healthy school lunches, and in future budgets, make Ka Ora, Ka Ako [school lunches] permanent and available to all children in all schools.”
UNICEF’s 18th Report Card observed: “In a time of general prosperity, more than 69 million children live in poverty in some of the world’s richest countries.”
Poverty was often defined by income. “But for most children, poverty is about more than just money. It is about growing up in a home without enough heat or nutritious food.”
The report added: “Poverty means no new clothes, no telephone and no money for a birthday celebration.”
The report placed Slovenia, Poland and Latvia at the top of the world ranking, with the United Kingdom (UK), Northern Ireland, Turkey and Colombia at the bottom.
Overall, the percentage of children “who live in poverty in 40 countries of the EU and OECD dropped by about 8% during a period of about seven years – which translated to six million fewer children in poverty,” the report said.
While stressing the role of cash benefits, a key child poverty alleviation tool, the report also noted that in 21 of the 39 countries with available data, “low-income families received less support from cash benefits in 2022 than they did in 2012.”
In Poland, one of the top two countries in the UNICEF ranking, the government’s decision to increase cash benefits for families helped reduce child poverty, the report noted.
But providing adequate cash benefits for children and families needed to be coupled with government measures in order to eliminate child poverty. These included investing “in multiple services that touch children’s lives, [such as] education, health and nutrition, and developing effective labour market policies,” the report summed up.
Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington