We all think New Zealand is a great place to raise a family. However, a new global report card from UNICEF shows that for many New Zealanders this isn’t the case. We are failing our children, and one of the key reasons is because we give so much of our money to the elderly.
Overall New Zealand scored 34th out of 41 countries – near the bottom. On many measures, such as education we do okay, but that particular measure doesn’t show the problem we have amongst our poorest families. When we look at the measures that demonstrate the impacts of poverty we can see that the families at the bottom of the heap in New Zealand are amongst the worst off in the developed world.
The worst aspect of this was our health record, which Newsroom summarised nicely:
Looking at children’s health and wellbeing, New Zealand ranked a lowly 38th.
The country’s teen pregnancy, neonatal mortality, adolescent suicide, and child homicide rates all contributed to the poor ranking.
Of particular concern is the suicide rate amongst 15-19-year-olds, which is the highest in the world and more than twice the global average.
Poverty is the main driver
The evidence is clear – these problems are all strongly impacted by poverty. Incredibly, New Zealand was unable to be included in the ranking for poverty as we were one of the few countries to not have a measure.
There are always other factors at play but experiencing poverty, particularly during the early years of life, determines the lifetime risk for many of these issues. Yet for some reason we allow children to have the highest rates of poverty of any group in this country.
This isn’t a problem faced by a tiny portion of society. Roughly half of families with kids under 5 experience at least a year of poverty. This is the most difficult time for many families, and it is also the most important time of any child’s life. In terms of a long-term investment, this is madness.
Where are our priorities?
The most notable thing about poverty in New Zealand is that we have some of the highest rates of child poverty in the world, and some of the lowest rates of elder poverty.
The reason behind this is very simple; we give a lot more money to the elderly than we do to families. Payments to families are low, tightly targeted, and full of conditions. Often as these families earn more they lose the money, and end up in a poverty trap. By contrast our elderly receive a generous, universal benefit that doesn’t alter with income and rises in line with wages.
At The Opportunities Party (TOP) we don’t think this makes sense. By reducing superannuation for those that don’t need it, we can afford to offer all families a support package that would greatly reduce poverty at a critical time in a child’s development. We propose giving all families with children under 3 $200 per week, and free full time high quality early childhood education for children aged 3 & 4.
By taking some money from the elderly that don’t need it, we can make an investment in our children’s future. The evidence says this investment will ultimately pay for itself in reduced health, welfare and crime bills, and greater tax take.