New Zealand clerics seek an official measure of child poverty

By David Crampton
Posted Sep 11, 2012

[Ecumenical News International] Child poverty in New Zealand is drawing attention from several denominations after a recent report outlined legislative plans to help children through tax and welfare changes.

The New Zealand government has cited difficulties with measuring child poverty, due to some families’ fluctuating income levels, but clergy from seven denominations said accurate measurement is urgently needed.

“It is essential that this is done,” the Salvation Army’s Major Campbell Roberts told ENInews. “Otherwise you don’t know what you are dealing with.”

Roberts also said he feels churches aren’t doing enough to address poverty. “I think we could be doing more. We don’t want there to be any excuse for a child not to get appropriate housing or health care.”

He was a member of the Expert Advisory Group that issued a report titled Issues and Options on Aug. 28 that suggested the legislative remedies. The group was formed last March by the Children’s Commissioner, the office that oversees child welfare in New Zealand. After a month’s public feedback, the Commissioner will issue a final report to the government in December.

Roberts also advises Salvation Army Commander Donald Bell, who considers measurement will provide a true picture of poverty. “With meaningful goals in place, our policymakers can implement practical changes and measure outcomes that make a real and significant difference to children currently living in poverty,” Bell said.

The denominations calling for accurate measurement, besides the Salvation Army, were the Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Assemblies of God churches.

They called the level of child poverty in New Zealand “unacceptably high.” The Commissioner has reported that in 2006/07, 230,000, or 22 percent, of New Zealand children lived in households with incomes below the 60 percent median income poverty line, after taking housing costs into account.

Catholic Archbishop John Dew said he believes clerics have a collective responsibility to strive to do the best for children. “We owe it to our children to give them a voice in this discussion and the decisions that will follow.”

“Addressing poverty is about being central to God’s heart,” said New Zealand’s newest Anglican diocesan bishop, Wellington’s Justin Duckworth, who was consecrated June 30.

Along with his family and his archbishop, David Moxon, Duckworth will be “living below the line” from Sept. 24-28, on NZ$2.25 (US$1.25) a day — the International Extreme Poverty Line as defined by the World Bank. The challenge is a brainchild of the Global Poverty Project, which creates awareness of extreme poverty.