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  • Writer's pictureCarol Barron

Is Aotearoa New Zealand really paradise?

Updated: Dec 9, 2022


Paradise is in Otago and famous for being a location for filming The Lord of the Rings. Kiwis often refer to Aotearoa New Zealand as paradise, or Godzone and for many it is, however, for others it is not.

Bryan Perry’s report on child poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand for the Ministry of Social Development was released in early October. The report found the rate of material hardship for children had fallen from 13.5% in 2017 to 10.6% in 2020.[1] That is great, but I am not sure it is worthy of celebration. These rates are still above the medium European rate which fell from 12.3% to 10.3% in the same time period.

130,000 children living in material hardship, it not something to celebrate, it should be an impetus for immediate action. It is hard to visualise what 130,000 children living in material hardship looks like, so try this. Take the combined population of everyone living in Palmerston North, and everyone living in Nelson, that totals about 130,000. Now, imagine they are all children, and sprinkle them throughout the motu - there are our 130,000 children living in material hardship.

“Children’s perspectives on the wicked problem of child poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand: a wearable camera study” was the title of a recent article in the New Zealand Medical Journal. The University of Otago study gave 168 randomly selected children in Wellington aged between 11 and 13 a body camera that they wore for four consecutive days during their time outside of school. The study showed the reality of life from a child’s perspective and revealed a sharp contrast with the children living in high socioeconomic deprivation more likely to “consume sweets, less likely to have their own rooms, and more likely to live in mouldy homes but children in low socioeconomic deprivation often had their own personal space and bowls of fruit on spacious countertops.”[2]

Professor Louise Signal, of Otago's Department of Public Health and the senior author of the study said that poverty in poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand permanently impacts children's health and wellbeing and is no way to build a thriving nation.[3] Professor Signal went on to say, “It's shameful we have child poverty in this country of plenty where we have such a good economy, we don't need to have children in poverty.”[4] She is right.

Bryan Perry’s report on child poverty found that the material and social deprivation rate (the EU-13 material hardship rate) for sole parent households in Aotearoa is 29%, a significant drop from 34% in 2017, but sadly this is a full 10% higher than the medium European rate for sole parent households at 19%.[5] New Zealand also has a relatively high proportion of sole parent households compared with European countries.

Four days after this report was released, our news headlines were filled with the story of children found eating food scraps out of a rubbish bag in Kaitaia.[6] A girl aged about five and her brother, aged about two years, were spotted by Stacey-Lee Ropiha and her sister who were driving past. [7] The sisters stopped and asked the children if they were ok and offered them some food.[8] Stacey-Lee reported the chance meeting to the Police, who said they would investigate and do a welfare check.[9]

Source: RNZ 11 October2022

In the same news article Kelvin Davis, Minister for children is quoted as saying “children roaming the streets of Kaitaia had been a long-standing problem dating back to before he was a principal.”[10] The Minister went on to say how the government had increased family incomes and the free healthy school lunch programme was “putting food in the bellies of our tamariki.”[11]

I found no outrage, shame, concern, or sense of responsibility in his comments about two small pre-children out alone searching for food in an open rubbish bag. We should all be outraged. We should all be ashamed that this is happening in our country. We share the responsibility to act on our outrage, shame, and concern to make a difference in the lives of these children, and the 129,298 children that are also living in poverty.

The gap between the rich and poor is widening, and our current economic policies compound and entrench these inequities. Part of Wesley Community Action’s submission to the Productivity Commission was quoted in their overview report - the only organisation to be quoted in this report. Wesley Community Action said,

The current welfare system is broken and no longer fit-for-purpose. Our system that is meant to stop people moving into persistent disadvantage was designed for a different environment and reflects a world view that is not reflective of our Te Tiriti o Waitangi honouring commitment. Related to this lack of a vital role of people/communities experiencing disadvantage to be agents for their change. The current system supports the status quo (persistent advantage). The current policy approach is not geared to embrace the interconnection between environmental, economic, social, cultural and political domains and how they support wellbeing.”[12]

Colin Hamlin, a Wesley Community Action board member leads the working group that is campaigning to increase benefit levels and abatement rates. This group highlights the underlying issues relating to income insecurity in a video that will be shown at Conference in November. Our suggested decisions to Conference will provide ways we as Weteriana can take to make life in Aotearoa New Zealand paradise for everyone.

Carol Barron, National Coordinator

03 375 0512 | 027 561 9164 |

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