BY Anuja Nadkarni
Campaign group ActionStation has joined forces with other non-profit organisations to get 10,000 signatures on a petition against child poverty in New Zealand.
The petition comes in time for politicians to speak about the issue in the forthcoming Budget session in Parliament on Thursday May 21.
ActionStation campaigner Marianne Elliott says the petition is a reminder for the Government about the promises it made regarding child poverty in the lead up to last year’s election.
“New Zealanders are still concerned about child poverty and we expect there to be something in the Budget that will make a substantial difference.”
Minister of Finance Bill English did not mention the issue of child poverty in his recent pre-budget speech.
National Manager for UNICEF New Zealand, Deborah Morris-Travis, says the children mostly stricken by poverty are aged below four years. This is concerning because they are undergoing rapid mental and physical development at that stage.
According to the Child Poverty Monitor there are more than 250,000 Kiwi children living in poverty.
National Secretary of Income Equality, Peter Malcolm, says the state of child poverty for a developed country like New Zealand is “shocking”.
“There is a very obvious way to solve that problem and that is by providing money to those who need it.”
The preferred outcome the campaigners would like to see from the petition is for all families living in poverty, regardless of their employment status, to receive Working for Families child-related tax credits.
Currently the child-related tax credits are available only to those families that work a minimum of 20 hours a week.
Ms Morris-Travis believes the Government’s position that creating more jobs will lead to greater incentive for poor families is ineffective.
“When you drive people into very deep poverty it’s a lot harder for them to get out. Often they’ll lose hope or there’ll be no resources available for transport or clothing for work anyway.”
Ms Elliott says the Government needs to shift its focus from increasing employment to helping those who are unable to join the workforce.
She says jobs cannot be created overnight.
“That is a long-term solution and every year that it takes to improve the lives of these children, is a year that those children don’t get that.”
Ms Elliot is “confident” the petition will get more than the required number of signatures.
The main purpose of a petition is a way for New Zealanders to exercise their rights as citizens, she says.
“There is strong public appetite for real change that tackles the heart of the issue, not the symptoms of it.”
Ms Elliott says she recognises that the complexity of the issue means it may not be resolved in Budget 2015 but it should get the politicians to “do more than just talk the talk”.