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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 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 films, 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 its ranking as a developed country.

The Facts

In New Zealand, significant 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 2008-2011 global recession.

According to the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, about “one in seven households” experience poverty. In addition, 20% of families do not have access to adequate supplies of food due to financial hardships, according to the 2002 National Children’s Nutrition Survey. This means that more than 328,000 children in New Zealand (29%) came from “a low-income household” in 2019.

When people do not have access to financial and emotional resources, their health is more likely to suffer. New Zealand illustrates this as children experiencing poverty “are more than twice as likely” to require hospitalization than children who are not impoverished. Impoverished children are also far more likely to experience health consequences like heart disease, obesity and substance addiction. These problems often follow children into adulthood, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Vulnerable Groups in New Zealand

There is an inequitable distribution of poverty in New Zealand, with Pacific Peoples and the Māori experiencing higher levels of poverty than other ethnicities. A shocking 40% of Pacific Peoples are “living in significant or severe hardship” with Māori coming in second as nearly one-third of the Māori population experiences the same conditions. Additionally, poverty hits children harder than other groups of people. In addition, “New Zealand has one of the worst rates of child abuse in the developed world.”

According to UNICEF, “a child dies every five weeks” due to violence in New Zealand. 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.

Families living in poverty need to spend their time and energy on survival. Due to circumstances of necessity and poverty, impoverished families typically prioritize education and health less. This creates a cycle of more people living in poverty, intensifying the circumstances of poverty 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 is vital in increasing the standard of living for many people across New Zealand, especially the most marginalized groups.

Steps to Reduce Poverty in New Zealand

By 2030, New Zealand aims to decrease the number of children living in poverty by at least 50%, in line with its commitments to U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 1. The government of New Zealand has implemented policies to reduce poverty, including strategies to make housing more affordable and accessible as housing costs are a major reason why many residents struggle financially. New legislation has emerged, including the Child Poverty Reduction Act 2018, which outlines a detailed 10-year strategy to reduce child poverty in the nation. The Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy helps further child poverty reduction by including 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 percentages as time goes on.

– Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr