A delegation from Dunedin’s Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has visited Health Minister David Clark in his Dunedin office to lobby for action on poverty.
Group co-ordinator Dr Judith Sligo said a dozen group members, some with a lived experience of poverty, took the recent action as part of a national CPAG/ActionStation initiative to get people talking to their MPs about poverty.
To draw extra attention to the issue, the Dunedin group wore T-shirts designed and created by local artists Manu Berry and Marion Familton.
Dr Sligo said the group remained deeply concerned about the 254,000 New Zealand children living in “income poverty”households with disposable income less than 50% of the national median income after housing costs, and the 148,000 in “material poverty”households in which children go without six or more essentials, such as enough to eat, warm clothes and sturdy shoes.
“These things are especially important in Dunedin,” Dr Sligo said.
CPAG understood that the Government was committed to significantly reducing both numbers, but felt that not enough was being done quickly enough.
The Whakamana Tangata Security in New Zealandreport released by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group in February 2019 had made 42 recommendations. Only three had been addressed so far, Dr Sligo said.
The 45-minute meeting with Dr Clark had been constructive and “everyone had a say”, which was reassuring.
“However, we want the Government to be brave we want to have a kind and compassionate society, then we have to take action.
“Many people are increasingly worried about the level of inequity in our society.
“No-one wants to live in poverty, and we have a moral responsibility to help them.”
The most important actions to take were increasing basic benefits and addressing the culture in government agencies towards being more supportive.
“We are really encouraging people with a social conscience to do what they can to make a difference.”
Another issue of particular concern for Dunedin was the desperate shortage of rental housing. Families were negatively impacted by being forced into frequent moves, Dr Sligo said.
Dr Clark said the meeting was “very constructive and I want acknowledge the determined work Dr Sligo and the Child Poverty Action Group are doing on behalf of Dunedin’s more vulnerable children and families”.
“We found a great deal of common ground.
“The Government believes, as do Dr Sligo and her colleagues, that a child’s early years are where investment should be directed for maximum benefit.
“We want New Zealand to be the best place in the world to be a child and that’s why we are providing assistance to low and middle-income families with children, with our Families Package and working to ensure those who require it have access to affordable housing,” Dr Clark said.
He thanked the Child Poverty Action Group for their acknowledgement of the Government’s work so far and said he had listened carefully to their recommendations for further action.
“I look forward to meeting with Dr Sligo and her colleagues again in future to discuss progress on this important work.