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Report calls for universal child payment

Tuesday 11 Dec 2012 6:10a.m.

Report calls for child payments

A universal payment for families with children aged five and under is one of 78 recommendations outlined in the final report of the expert advisory group on solutions to child poverty.

In their report, released on Tuesday, the children's commissioner's group says bold actions and "far more investment in our children" are required to significantly reduce the harm of child poverty in New Zealand.

The group's co-chair Professor Jonathan Boston says the government can take action immediately to alleviate the impact of poverty on children.

Among the group's recommendations for immediate action:

  • The implementation of a nationwide food-in-schools programme;
  • Support for young parents so they remain engaged in education;
  • Support for effective delivery of local services through community hubs;
  • A "warrant of fitness" scheme for all rental housing;
  • A public-private partnership micro-financing model to provide low-interest and zero-interest loans for low-income families.

The report also outlines longer-term measures, which Prof Boston says the group has accepted will be costly to implement.

These include a simpler income support payment for families with dependent children, with a universal child payment for children aged five and under, and targeted payments based on family income for children aged six and over.

However, the Government has already ruled this out as an option, saying any new spending needs to be tightly targeted.

Doctor Tracey Mcintosh, the co-chair on the report's expert advisory group, says it is important for the nation to show it is committed to children.

“We have to think about this as a long-term investment approach and so we’ve got some sort of short-term priorities and others that will be much longer,” she told Firstline this morning.

The group also wants more social housing and funding for free primary health care visits for all children aged five and under, extended over time to cover children aged 17 and under.

"Child poverty is already costing taxpayers a large amount of money and imposing overall economic losses in the realm of $6-8 billion a year," Prof Boston said.

"We could keep on this track and accept a lower level of national prosperity.

"Alternatively, we could invest more now and implement solutions that will improve the outcomes for our children and for our economy and society."

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says some recommendations may get taken up, while others are already being addressed.

"There is merit in the suggestion of community hubs and a warrant of fitness for homes. Meanwhile, we're already ensuring beneficiary teen parents are in education."

However, Ms Bennett said the Government would not support universal child payments.

"It is those on the lowest incomes who are in the greatest need, so any new spending needs to be tightly targeted."

But children's commissioner Russell Wills says those who claim the problems are too expensive to solve should look again.

"Child poverty costs us already," says Dr Wills. "It doesn't just cost the children themselves, so if we invest in young children now, not only will they benefit, but we will all benefit, in time."

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei says the universal child payment is a key step towards ensuring all children have the best possible start in life.

"Poverty and low incomes prevent too many children from being able to enjoy the same opportunities that other children have to grow up and reach their full potential."

3 News / NZN

 
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