“I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me”. Matthew 25:40

Welcome to the latest Policy Watch e-highlighting the latest news, research and policy developments relevant to NZCCSS’ core mission to work for a just and compassionate society in Aotearoa New Zealand.

For this edition we begin with a reflection on how life has improved for 100,000 children identified as living at a level of poverty that will see lifelong impacts on their health, education, employment, and overall wellbeing.

The Government says they are doing a lot to reduce child poverty (new Child Poverty Reduction Act 2018 setting targets, the Families Package worth $5.5 billion and a Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy , and they intend to do more, but can’t say until Budget 2020.

The political commitment appears to be there, but it is the speed at which policies are implemented that is at the heart of concerns raised by child advocates groups at the recent CPAG conference and by the Children’s Commissioner Andrew Beacroft (Q &A, 19th November 2019).

Ignorance of the depth of poverty experienced by these children can’t be claimed; there are enough reports, research and data detailing the impacts of poverty and inequality to fill the Parliamentary Library two-fold. Strapped for cash can’t be claimed because the Government has reported a $7.5 billion surplus.

So what’s the hold up? Is it a perception middle-New Zealand will be affronted if benefit rates are increased and families have sufficient to cover basic necessities? For decades governments have grappled with this quandary but is this a fair reflection of the hearts and minds of ordinary kiwis?

The most recent Household Economic Survey Report (data to June 2018) released in 2019 provides stark evidence about the flat or declining income of beneficiaries over 25 years while the median household income grew. “The poverty rate for workless households increased rapidly as a result of the 1991 benefit cuts and the move to market rents. Since the early 1990s the poverty rate for workless households has continued to increase using relative measures. This reflects the fact that median household income has grown strongly in real terms for the last 25 years whereas incomes for beneficiary households has been flat or declining in real terms in that period (even after the 1991 benefit cuts)”.

Whakamana Tāngata: Restoring Dignity to Social Security in New Zealand (WEAG Report) and its 45 key recommendations continue to provide the best hope to children living in household dependant. Two key recommendations are the lifting of core benefit levels and the removal of sanctions. The clock is ticking and action is needed now.


Another group of children living in poverty can also be found in working households.


A new research report by Auckland University of Technology’s NZ Work Research Institute, commissioned by the Human Rights Commission, used census data from 2013 to identify over 50,000 working poor households (7% of total population) in New Zealand. The report provides useful insight into which population groups are more at risk of in-work poverty, and while it raises few surprises – single parents, children, Māori and Pacific peoples, ethnic minorities, households with low educational attainment, disabled people, and renters, have an increased risk of in-work poverty- the report is a reminder not all work lifts people out of poverty, an area covered in depth in the WEAG Report.

Listen to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Dr Karanina and AUT Professor of Economics, Gail Pacheco take to Kathryn Ryan (Radio NZ) about the report.

 Spotlight on key finding in the report

  • Amongst working households, the proportion of households in poverty is 7.0 percent as at March 2013. There has been very little change in in-work poverty rates between 2007 and 2017.
  • 7 percent of adult females are associated with an in-work poor household, while for men this number is 6.6 percent.
  • 10 percent of children living in working households live in poverty, compared with 7.2 percent of adults in working households.
  • Role of Working for Families tax credits and the Accommodation Supplement make a sizable impact on in-work poverty prevalence. Without both income sources, the in-work poverty rate rises from 7.0 percent to 9.2 percent. The biggest impact is for single-parent households where this rate rises to 21.6 percent without these two income sources.
  • Households with at least one adult with prioritised ethnicity of Pacific peoples experience the highest in-work poverty rate compared with households of other ethnicities.
  • Households with at least one disabled adult have a higher rate of in-work poverty of 9.5 percent compared with households without a disabled adult at 6.6 percent.
  • The lowest in-work poverty rate is observed for households comprising a couple without children (4.8 percent), followed by a couple with child(ren) (6.3 percent) and single adults (6.4 percent). Higher rates exist for single-parent (12.3 percent) and multi-family households (9.6 percent).
  • Having a second worker in the household reduces the in-work poverty risk substantially. For example, for couples with children and only one adult working, the in-work poverty rate is 13.5 percent; this falls to 1.9 percent if there is more than one adult working.


The Household Income Report (Ministry of Social Development) has been released, although without the usual Minister’s media release to accompany it.  An overview and key findings are on the MSD Website. A key takeaway message is: Inequality remains high and the bottom income decile are still struggling to survive after housing costs are paid.  A full analysis of the Household Income Report will be included in the December 2019 Kete Kupu.

  • “Beneficiary households make up a large portion of households in the bottom income decile and their incomes were generally flat or declining in real terms in the period (even when the impact of the 2016 Child Material Hardship package is taken into account)”.
  • “From HES 2011 to 2017, around 42% in the bottom income quintile (ie bottom 20%) had housing outgoings of more than 30% of income, 32% spent more than 40% of their income, and 25% more than half their income on housing costs”.
  • “For under 65s, over the whole bottom quintile, housing costs on average have doubled as a proportion of income since the 1980s, up from 23% to 45% in 2015 to 2017”.
  • “There is no new information in the report on trends in the child poverty measures specified in the Child Poverty Reduction Act (2018). Stats NZ are scheduled to publish the 2018-19 update in February 2020”.


The first evaluation of the Government’s $5.5 billion Families Package has been released and there are signs a lot has been achieved. However, relentless reports of hardship in communities are an indication of the depth of poverty that continues to exist. Key findings of the report:

  • 1 million New Zealanders warmed by the Winter Energy Payment.
  • 36,000 families bank the Best Start Payment in first year.
  • 6,000 more families received the Family Tax Credit, 220,600 in total.  They receive an increase from an average of $117 to $157 a week for Inland Revenue clients, and from an average of $147 to $188 a week for MSD clients
  • People receiving the Accommodation Supplement got an average increase from  $71 to $98 a week
  • 13,500 carers receiving the new Clothing Allowance.


Following the resignation of Sir Anand Satyanand, Judge Coral Shaw has been appointed Chairperson of the Inquiry Into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-based Institutions. The Royal Commission’s website provide up-to-date information and other resources to keep up with the Commission’s progress.


The review of Oranga Tamariki practice around the planned uplift of a Hastings baby in May has been released. The review indicates “ significant failings by the Ministry and that the planned and funded changes to shift from a child crisis service to a proper care and protection service need to be accelerated” says Children’s Minister Tracey Martin.  Oranga Tamariki “is profoundly sorry’ and is making changes, including significant shifts in who needs to be involved in a custody order. Read the full report here.


The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has a new option to help people keep their homes when overdue rent has put their tenancy at risk. A new Rent Arrears Assistance payment is now available. The payment is intended to help some people who don’t qualify for other MSD rent arrears support, and risk losing their home because of overdue rent but there are criteria to meet. The Work and Income website has more information about Rent Arrears Assistance, who qualifies and how to apply.


Minister of State Services Chris Hipkins has introduced a Bill into Parliament that will repeal The State Sector Act 1988 and replace it with a new Public Service Act. Chris Hipkins says “The State Sector Act 1988 was designed for its time, and since then there have been major social, economic and technological changes, many of them on a global scale. It is no longer possible for a single agency to fix the really big and complex problems New Zealand faces today”.

It is also not possible for a single reformed public sector to fix the “really big and complex problems” in society without the knowledge and expertise of the NGO sector. Any cross-agency board or venture established must include representatives from community and iwi organisations. NZCCSS will be following the development of this legislation with interest.


The third and final reading of the End of Life Choice Bill to allow terminally ill adults to request a medically-assisted death, has been passed in Parliament by 69 votes to 51. A majority referendum result at the next General Election is needed before the legislation can be enacted. Refer to the September 2019 Kete Kupu for references to the Anglican Social Justice Resources on the “.. deeper and broader issues that will come into play if the ‘End of Life Choice Bill’ is legislated, along with other useful links.


Oranga Tamariki Evidence Centre Te Pokapū Taunakitanga is holding a cross-agency seminar on Friday 6th December at 10:30am-12:00pm.

Our twelfth seminar in the series, Insights into supporting children and young people, will feature two presentations: Matt Walsh (AUT) will be discussing Growing Up in New Zealand (GUiNZ) data which looks at protective factors for children at high risk of adverse experiences; Shae Ronald (CEO, Youthline) will share findings from a recent Youthline commissioned ‘State of the Generation’ survey. Register for tickets here.

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