April 04, 2023
Hugh Parsons

Thousands of children in Aotearoa still living in material hardship

How child poverty is tracking in Aotearoa New Zealand

2022 data on child poverty indicates that many children are living in financial and material hardship, and this number has not changed significantly from 2021.

Statistics New Zealand recently released child poverty statistics for the year ended June 2022. A policy focus for former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was the eradication of child poverty, enacted into Parliament in 2018 through the Child Poverty Reduction Act. Unfortunately, despite overall poverty rates decreasing over the last few years, the picture the numbers paint is not a completely positive one.

Child poverty has been tracked since 2013. Data collection on child poverty for the year ended June 2022 was met with a range of challenges, most notably the COVID-19 Omicron wave that halted operations in early 2022. For this reason, the sample size was much smaller than in previous years at 8,900 households, with the usual sample size for this data being 20,000 households. Due to this sample size difference, many of the slight movements from 2021 can be interpreted as showing no conclusive change. 

The overall number of children living in poverty has been decreasing since 2018

This article looks at data that estimates the number of children who are living in households with less than 60 percent of the median household disposable income remaining after housing costs, and those living in material hardship (households having a deprivation score of six or more). Our 2021 article explains what these metrics mean in more detail. In 2022, the number of households covered by these conditions was estimated to be 5.9 percent, or 67,300 households. The trend is downward, but the wide margins of error through the years (plus or minus 3.3 percent in 2013 and plus or minus 1.2 percent in 2022) mean that the there is high variability in the data. Therefore, it is difficult to say with certainty if this percentage has changed meaningfully over the last 10 years. Between June 2021 and June 2022, the cost of living increased significantly with the Consumers Price Index (CPI) increasing by 7.3 percent during this period.

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Low income and material hardship increased for children in Pacific households

Arranging low income and hardship data by ethnicity shows that numbers have not generally improved for children in Pacific households. With a high margin of error (4.7 percent), it is likely that more children in Pacific households were facing low income and material hardship in 2022 (14.4 percent) than in 2021 (12.5 percent).

Source: Statistics New Zealand

In 2022, 10.5 percent of children in Māori households were living in material hardship. The share decreased slightly from 2021 (11.8 percent), but as with Pacific households, there is a high margin of error (2.8 percent).

Source: Statistics New Zealand

The percentage of children in NZ European households living with low income and material hardship has hovered close to five percent since 2019.

Disabled children and households with a disabled parent more likely to be struggling

Comparing disabled and non-disabled children shows there are also startling disparities in hardship and incomes for people with disabilities. Disabled children are more than twice as likely to be living in poverty, 12.5 percent compared to five percent for non-disabled children.

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Children living in households with at least one disabled parent are three times as likely to be living poverty, 12 percent compared to four percent.

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Moving towards useful narratives to find solutions

A report prepared by The Workshop outlines how to discuss issues surrounding child poverty in a constructive manner. For example, child poverty statistics only measure income and access to resources (deprivation). They do not measure the actions that parents, caregivers, and communities take to provide a fulfilling life for their children.  

Child and Youth Wellbeing, in partnership with Inspiring Communities, released a guide for practices that can enable community-led action to enhance well-being outcomes for children and young people. Their suggestion is to incorporate a ‘child-rich’ practice that includes: 

  • Engagement: Work with children and young people to understand what they need and what is going well
  • Empowerment: Walk alongside children, families, and communities to build the capacity and confidence to participate, self-organise, act, and lead from within
  • Connection: Build on the positives first, and be welcoming, inclusive, and practice manaakitanga (respect, hospitality, and care) to foster new connections between families and communities
  • Collaboration: Work together with stakeholders to maximise energy, impact, and resources. Local organisations, leaders, and businesses have knowledge that will help the complex needs of children, young people, and families be recognised and addressed
  • Relationship focus: Reciprocal and long-term respectful relationships build trust between communities and organisations
  • Responsive: Willingness to change and adapt will help to facilitate change in families and the wider community, particularly if evidence arises that an approach to a problem must be changed in a short amount of time
  • Thinking and working holistically: Nothing is confined to a single sector. If families, communities, and society are well, then children will also be well. What makes people well is not just higher incomes, it is better outcomes across the dimensions of well-being. Considering how mahi across sectors, communities, and regions can interact and function together in the same direction will enable multiple outcomes to be achieved.