Unlike other countries, New Zealand does not use an official poverty line. Generally speaking, the understanding is that with an income level set at 60 percent of median household disposable income after housing costs, it is reasonable to expect that this will prevent the worst effects of poverty.
It is also generally understood that poverty in New Zealand can entail hunger and food insecurity, poor health outcomes, reduced life expectancy, debt and poor housing. One in seven households in New Zealand experiences poverty, which includes about 230,000 children overall.
Māori and other Pacific peoples represent the majority of people living in persistent poverty in New Zealand, along with beneficiaries and single parents. Welfare benefits in New Zealand are not enough for someone to live on, much less with dignity.
Emergency assistance resources are stretched, and housing assistance is not always adequate. The gap between the rich and the poor is still large and not shrinking anytime soon.
One of the prevailing myths in New Zealand and other places is that those on welfare or other benefits have an inherent lazy character and lack a work ethic. While unemployment remains high, many jobs available to those on benefits are insecure and do not pay as well as full-time permanent jobs. Furthermore, those on benefits often deal with outside factors, like health issues and disabilities, that make working a job difficult.
The approximately 230,000 children living in poverty in New Zealand may add economic and social cost to New Zealand society later on because their problems were not addressed. Many are at risk for further health problems both physical and mental, and have a higher risk of having to be involved in the justice system. Currently, this costs $2 billion or so every year.
Child poverty in New Zealand remains the most pressing issue of social justice. However, if there are people willing to help, there is still reason for hope.
– Ellen Ray