Hive News Tuesday: Key under pressure to target and lower child poverty

Children playing at a rubbish heap in South Auckland. Copyright Lynn Grieveson / Hive News

John Key, who said soon after his re-election in 2014 that this term would be focused on reducing child poverty, came under pressure yesterday to accept the call from new Children's Commissioner and former Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft to target a reduction in a specific child poverty measure.

Becroft made the call in this interview with Lisa Owen on Saturday for the Government to agree with the Opposition and the community on a target for child poverty, and then to reduce it by 5-10% by 2018.

Becroft said the target should be the one currently used to measure material deprivation, which puts the number at 149,000. The Government has set a range of "Better Public Service" measures for various social outcomes, including NCEA pass rates and long term welfare dependence, but not one for child poverty.

"I think the measure should be the material-deprivation rate. There are 17 criteria. If children are in families with more than six of those, they’re said to be materially deprived – that’s 149,000. I’d like to see a 5% to 10% reduction by the end of next year. Both parties prior to the election could agree to do that," Becroft said.

Key was challenged about this by Guyon Espiner yesterday morning and again rejected the calls for a specific target. Espiner asked why the Government could set a target for the number of stoats and possums, but had not decided on a target for reducing child poverty.

"It's more binary in terms of whether there is a rat, a stoat or a possum there or whether there isn't, because you can understand that," Key replied, saying he had been given advice against choosing a specific target.

"It sounds airy fairy, but it's the advice we get, that there's a range of different ways of measuring poverty and we're saying you could spend a long time agreeing on one particular target," he said, adding it was better for the Government to focus on specific factors contributing to material hardship than the poverty measure itself, referring in particular to the Government's target to reduce rheumatic fever rates.

The Child Poverty Action Group said it strongly endorsed Becroft's call to target the material hardship measure, saying a national integrated strategy with targets and measurable outcomes was needed, given the previous approaches had not worked.

"Children who grow up in poverty are denied the healthy environment they need to thrive. They live in houses that are damp and cold, they get sick more frequently and are more likely to end up in hospital and have chronic illnesses. They move frequently, so their education is compromised. Their lives are stressful," said CPAG's health spokeswoman Associate Professor Nikki Turner.

"These factors combine to mean they are unlikely to reach their potential as adults. The social and economic costs are huge and compounding," she said.

The Salvation Army also supported Becroft's call for a cross-party agreement on targeting and reducing child poverty.

The Green and Labour Parties called on Key to commit to a child poverty reduction target, with Metiria Turei submitting a private member's bill that sets a target.

"It’s ridiculous that the Government is willing to spend time and money to come up with a target to eliminate possums in New Zealand, but refuses to put the same amount of effort into reducing the number of Kiwi kids living in poverty," Turei said.

Andrew Little described Key's refusal to commit to a target as "cowardly."

"Eight years on, Key is reduced to arguing against child poverty measures rather than just getting on with helping children in need. Is this the same man who stood on McGehan Close and promised that no Kiwi kids would be left behind," Little said.

In other economic and financial news...

Character Coalition Chair Sally Hughes told me she had agreed to changes to the High Court appeal by the Coalition and Auckland 2040 against the Unitary Plan, which would limit its scope to the 29,000 houses affected by the Council's proposed up-zonings debated in the February 24 meeting. The Council was concerned last week the appeal applied to all the zoning maps for the Unitary Plan, making it difficult and expensive for developers to move ahead while the appeal was being resolved over the next 6-12 months.

The Reserve Bank said the assessment of monetary policy written for the Bank's board by incoming chair Neil Quigley was not unusual as directors had written their own assessments for at least the last four board reports.

Treasury published its monthly economic indicators summary for September, including an assessment that GDP over the rest of 2016 was tracking stronger than the May Budget forecasts.

Treasury also published a special analysis on the rise in household debt to record highs relative to incomes. One feature was a chart showing the annual growth in bank deposits vs the annual growth in debt, which showed a significant divergence this year.

"The recent divergence is still too short and small to call a trend, but if it were to continue may challenge a relatively sanguine view of household indebtedness," it said.

Quote of the day:

An email from Auckland roading contractor Projenz inviting the Rodney District Council's Infrastructure Director Murray Noone and other council staff to lunch at Euro in June 2008, shortly after Noone was promoted into the role.

"You are invited to what will be an arduous afternoon of forward planning with the Infrastructure Director."

Noone and Projenz's Stephen Borlase face corruption charges in the Auckland High Court and the trial is ongoing. Matt Nippert reported the lunch for 10 finished at 10.50 pm and cost NZ$5,500.

Tweets of the day:

Roger Quimbley:

I heard someone say that Twitter was an echo chamber. Several times actually. And again just then.

Tom Tomorrow:

A man who could plausibly become President was up in the middle of the night hate-tweeting about non-existent sex tape to defend fat shaming

Have a great day