After a poverty of debate, political parties commit to dealing with child poverty

Both Labour and National are now politically committed to major reductions in child poverty rates.

Moreover, their ambitions are bold and explicit.

National is promising to reduce child poverty by two-thirds – at least on one specific income-based measure – by the end of the next parliament.

Labour has committed to ending child poverty and enacting legislation containing multiple official poverty measures and related targets. Several other parties, notably the Greens and the Māori Party, support broadly similar initiatives.

These political commitments are of historic significance. They mark the first serious cross-party consensus in New Zealand on the need to tackle child poverty in several generations – perhaps ever.

Whatever the composition of the next government, the outcome is destined to be positive for many of our poorest families. This is great news.

Not only will reducing poverty alleviate family hardship and suffering, but it can also be expected to generate better long-term social and economic outcomes: improved health status, better educational results and lower unemployment.

Yet any effort to reduce child poverty on a durable basis must proceed carefully.

First, there is no universally agreed way of measuring poverty and no one correct poverty threshold. As most people recognise, poverty is multi-dimensional. It has many aspects, as well as many causes and consequences.

Ideally, therefore, a range of measures is required.

These should include measures using various income thresholds as well as those assessing the level of material deprivation or hardship based on how many specific necessities people lack.

Additionally, there should be explicit measures of poverty severity and persistence.

A comprehensive measurement and reporting framework along these lines was proposed by the Expert Advisory on Solutions to Child Poverty in 2012, based partly on the British Child Poverty Act 2010 and partly on advice from leading international poverty researchers.

Under this approach, explicit medium-term and long-term targets would be set for several selected poverty measures.

Second, any official poverty measures and targets must be buttressed by relevant child-poverty related indicators.

The Expert Advisory Group recommended five types of indicators covering outcomes in the domains of health, education, social inclusion, disability and child quality of life. Continue reading

  • Jonathan Boston is Professor of Public Policy at Victoria University of Wellington.
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