The CEO of Variety calls for New Zealanders to back the Child Poverty Reduction Bill

Lorraine Taylor, CEO of Variety – the Children’s Charity, believes the Child Poverty Reduction Bill is an important tool to addressing New Zealand’s child poverty situation. She is imploring Kiwis to get behind the Bill by signing their name to an open letter to MPs before April 4.

1984 – a year forever etched in our minds thanks to George Orwell and his dystopian novel of the same name. But for me, 1984 is symbolic for a different reason – child poverty at that time was half what it is today.

Those two words, ‘child poverty’, evoke strong emotions in us, and rightly so. Some of us are ‘doubters’, disbelieving statistics and state, quite rightly, that child poverty in New Zealand is not the same as child poverty in developing countries. Others blame parents for having large families or a poor upbringing, or the welfare system for creating dependencies; then there are those who are simply bored with the child poverty conversation; and then, yet more who want a fair go for everyone in our society, particularly our children, and are prepared to act to affect change.

Variety – the Children’s Charity launched in New Zealand in 1989; and what a different place our country was then for our Kiwi kids. The requests for funding were vastly different to those we receive today. Families were not asking for help to fund basic essentials, instead for ‘big-ticket’ items such as a piece of medical or mobility equipment – the cost beyond the reach of many families and not funded by the government or other organisations. Transportation was high on the list – a coach to transport children living in rural communities, or a specialised coach for children with disabilities; or supplementary items, such as books for a school library.

Variety still receives requests for items such as these. Sadly though, now, the majority of funding applications are from families struggling to provide even the basic essentials for their children.

As a children’s charity, we apply our funds to where the need is greatest to ensure that our responses are relevant to the needs of today’s children.

A snapshot of funding provided to families by Variety last week shows the very basic necessities many of us take for granted are simply not available for our poorest children.

This week, part of our funding, purchased beds and bedding:

  • $707 for bunk beds for a three year old who is sharing a bed with her sister. Both girls have had recurring respiratory infections. One sister has had bronchiolitis or pneumonia three times this year.
  • $707 for bunk beds for a child with developmental delay and speech/language delay. She currently shares a bed with her older sister. Bunk beds will allow the girls to get a better night’s sleep.
  • $896 for a bed and clothing for a child who has recently undergone heart surgery and is sleeping in an old and mouldy bed. She has stopped attending Alternative Education due to transport issues and confidence.
  • $407 for a bed for an eight year old boy who shares a bed with his mum. He has been treated for Group A Streptococcus three times this year. Sleeping in his own bed will help prevent the spread of the infection.
  • $200 for waterproof bed linen for a nine year old who has a bed wetting condition.

Will these grants solve child poverty? No. Will they make an immediate difference to one child’s life? Yes.

This is the part in the child poverty puzzle that organsiations like Variety can play. But the issue is multi-dimensional and complex – it requires a comprehensive response, only possible through government intervention and collaboration between agencies, and non-profit organisations like Variety.

We cannot expect the situation to change for children unless there is a commitment from the government to do so.

For years the sector has been calling on the government to set targets for child poverty reduction, to develop a strategy to drive change, to make investment, and to measure the impact of that strategy.

This year, the New Zealand Parliament has the opportunity to enact legislation that will improve the lives of children in poverty – by giving successive governments a tool to focus policy decisions that will tackle New Zealand’s unacceptably high rate of child poverty.

We believe this Bill’s requirement to set targets and report results will increase this and future governments’ accountability and mobilise resources.

The bill has four major elements. It requires this, and subsequent governments to:
1. Measure child poverty against 10 measures
2. Set targets
3. Publicly report on progress against the targets
4. Have a Child Wellbeing Strategy that describes how the government will reduce child

poverty and its effects.

We believe the Child Poverty Reduction Bill will increase this and future governments’ accountability and ensure the allocation of appropriate resourcing to affect change.
It is only through strong public and political support for the Child Poverty Reduction Bill that it can become a tool to reduce child poverty; and stand the test of time regardless of future governments.

We know that if we can speak as one, we can affect change. This is evident in the results of strong lobbying from those over 65, with poverty in this age bracket half that of child poverty.

That’s why I’m asking you, and our other supporters, to show support by signing our open letter to your MP, letting them know you think enacting this Bill will be good for New Zealand children, as well as our economy and society, in the short and long term.

Please encourage your friends, family, colleagues, neighbours and anyone who cares about child poverty in New Zealand to join us by adding their names and voices to this campaign.

We will send every MP a letter undersigned with the names of those in their electorate who have responded to our campaign. We’ll also provide the list of all New Zealanders who have signed to the Select Committee by their next submission deadline on April 4.

I look forward to a time when there will no longer be a need for Variety’s Kiwi Kid Sponsorship programme and other initiatives to provide basic essentials. We can then focus our efforts on our other programmes that provide more uplifting opportunities for New Zealand children to have the childhood they deserve.

A moment of your time could change the lives of children living in poverty, please sign our open letter to MPs today.

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