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The Fight Against Poverty in New Zealand

Poverty in New Zealand
New Zealand is a lush island country in the Pacific Ocean. It comprises of two main islands; the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui) and the South Island (Te Waipounamu) in addition to about 600 smaller island landmasses. With a total population of approximately 5 million people, it is not the most populous of countries, but New Zealand has garnered worldwide recognition as a tourist destination. This is partly due to its stunning ocean views, rolling green hills and jagged mountainsides. In fact, New Zealand is a sought-after location for film, with popular movies like “the Lord of the Rings” showcasing the natural beauty of the area. However, such an idyllic and prosperous country has a darker underbelly. Poverty exists in New Zealand despite it being a developed country.

The Facts

One can define poverty in New Zealand as living in a household that makes 60% less than the average, taking housing costs into consideration. In New Zealand, massive economic restructuring beginning in the 1980s has resulted in prosperity for some, and poverty for others. In 1984, the national poverty rate was 9%. Comparatively, in 2016, the poverty rate was 15%. This represents a decrease from the peak poverty rate of 22% in 2004 but still remains significantly higher than before the mid-1980s, as a direct result of economic change including hard hits during the 2008 recession. Today, about one in seven households experience poverty, with one in five reporting that they do not have access to food or healthy food due to a lack of money according to The National Children’s Nutrition Survey. This means that around 290,000 children (or 27%) were living in poverty in 2017.

When people do not have access to financial and emotional resources, their health is more likely to suffer. New Zealand shows this as children experiencing poverty are more than twice as likely to visit the hospital than those who are not. They are also far more likely to experience health consequences like heart disease, obesity and addiction. These problems often follow children into adulthood, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Who is Most Affected?

There is an inequitable distribution of poverty in New Zealand, with Pacific Peoples and other indigenous groups like the Māori and Pakeha peoples experiencing higher levels of poverty than other people. A shocking 40% of Pacific Peoples have an income below the poverty line, with Māori coming in second with nearly one-third of their population experiencing poverty. Additionally, children are harder-hit than other groups. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of child abuse in the developed world.

According to UNICEF, a child dies every five weeks due to violence. Experiencing or seeing violence as a child can lead to negative long-term effects like drug-use, early pregnancy, anxiety and mental disorders and can compound the effects of poverty into adulthood. It is important to reduce childhood poverty rates because statistics have shown that where poverty rates drop, birthrates decrease as well.

Families that are living in poverty need to spend their time and energy on survival, and by necessity spend less time on things like education, emotional health and community. This creates a cycle of more people living in poverty, making the problem bigger over time. If more people come out of poverty now, fewer people will continue to live in poverty in the future. Preventing the inequitable effects of poverty on certain populations is vital in increasing the standard of living for many people and children across New Zealand, especially native populations.

Steps to Fix the Problem

By 2030, New Zealand aims to decrease the number of children living in poverty by half. This is part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Some policies that the government of New Zealand implemented include tax breaks and affordable housing strategies, as housing costs are a huge reason many residents struggle to pay the bills. New legislation has emerged, including the Child Poverty Reduction and Wellbeing act. This passed in 2018 and outlines a detailed, 10-year strategy that includes measures like extending parental leave to 26 weeks, providing increased resources for abuse victims, increasing the minimum wage to $20 per hour by 2021, and expanding parenting support resources. Over the past 10 years, New Zealand has reduced poverty rates and with new, aggressive legislation, should see a boost in those numbers as time goes on.

– Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr