© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

What's the real story of child poverty in New Zealand?

Rachel Das

It may not be as in your face as overseas, but for many Kiwi children, poverty is a reality.

It didn't matter that it wasn’t raining.

Summer or winter, gumboots were what the boy wore to school.

The boy?

We'll call him Sam.

Day in and day out, gumboots clomping down the road.

His mum couldn't afford shoes.   

This is just one child in Christchurch, doing without.

How much do you know about child poverty in New Zealand?

Research from the Child Poverty Monitor shows 295, 000 Kiwi children live in homes of income poverty. In addition to this, one out of seven New Zealand children live with material hardship, meaning they're without seven of the basic essentials for a healthy life - heating, healthy food, adequate clothing, etc. 

A total of 8% or 90,000 children across the country live in severe poverty, a combination of income poverty and material hardship.

Bringing it closer to home, this means around 10,000 children in Christchurch alone live in tangible poverty, without appropriate  clothing, food, heating, money for doctor's prescriptions and/or many of the other basic necessities for a healthy childhood.


child poverty
Child Poverty Monitor 2016: The numbers are estimates based on household surveys. Children are those aged 0 to 17 years old. Ministry of Social Development

We live in a "first world" country. Yet these statistics beg to differ.

Alan Johnson is a Social Policy Analyst from the Salvation Army.

He comments, "It is difficult seeing social progress in persistent rates of child poverty – even as the economy grows robustly."

It would be comfortable if child poverty fit in a nice box, with simple, clear lines all tidied away and straightforward solutions. But black and white have long since disappeared, if they ever existed.

Bella Aitken gave up her successful career as a consultant chef to work with Christchurch children through the Kiwi Family Trust.  She's seen first hand the difference between poverty in New Zealand and overseas and realises it’s harder to see at face value here.  

Aitken describes overseas poverty as "4D", in that you can clearly see and even smell it - it's obvious poverty. 

She believes child poverty in New Zealand is seen through children not thriving in their environments.

"(Children are poor) due to lack of many factors: money, skill, support, connection, community… we're poor on that level," Aitken says.

A range of not for profit organisations are seeing families struggle to get by increasing across the city.

Jackie Burrows from He Waka Tapu says it's a common theme: children with asthma over the winter from cold, damp homes, not enough good food, light school lunches and children not dressed appropriately.

Burrows believes it's normal things children are missing out on and she sees a lot of it. 

"Unless you're going into people's homes, you won't see it (child poverty)," Burrows says. 

Christchurch residents share their opinions on child poverty in New Zealand.

Val Carter works with Home and Family, an organisation that's worked with Christchurch families for more than 100 years.

She believes child poverty is on a quickly escalating scale and that people are surprised and shocked by the size of the issue. 

"If a child has to go to school when they're hungry and haven't got uniform, it very quickly builds into total non-school engagement."

And Carter has a warning for people on all levels of income.

"It's not a huge divide between people that have and have not… it doesn’t take much to find yourself where you'd rather not be."

It would be "nice" to say the coverage of this issue is comprehensive, yet with such a huge range of issues, ideologies and potential causes affecting and stemming from child poverty, it's a challenge to cover it all.

Many issues could be discussed: children’s health – physical illness caused by poor housing or mental health and tripled counselling with many children showing anxiety, not enough money to pay for doctors prescriptions, crippling debt or parents unable to upskill.

However, the Children's Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft believes tackling the underlying issues of inequality and material disadvantage affecting children is the only way forward.

"No New Zealander, no proud New Zealander wants to live in a country of inequality. No New Zealander wants to live in a country where there are 90,000 children at significant material disadvantage. We need to address that issue and we need to really tackle it head on."

He is adamant we all have to get involved to turn the tide on child poverty and the issues that stem from it.

"It's too easy to say someone else has got to solve it, the whole community's got to be behind it," Becroft says. 

 … And so what happened to Sam?

A community trust gave him a gift voucher for a shoe shop. 

For now, he has a pair of shoes to wear to school.

For now, no more gumboots to school.

A normal pair of shoes, like any other child.