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Time for an official child poverty measure

This morning the Taxpayers’ Union is called on political parties to come together and agree on an official measure and national target to cut childhood poverty. 

Irrespective of whether you think the Government is already spending enough on measures to relieve child poverty, we should have an agreed yardstick to hold politicians to account.

How can anyone judge whether the Government’s social, housing, and health programmes are effective when no one is measuring the results?  It’s tens of billions of taxpayers dollars every year, and we should be measuring how effective that spending is. 

It’s not about the amount of spending, it’s about the effectiveness of the spending – does it make a difference and how do we know that? 

material_02.pngIf we are to have an official measure of child poverty then it needs to meet two criteria. One is that there is multiparty agreement on it (as for example there is on the Household Labour Force Survey to measure unemployment), and secondly, it actually has to measure poverty and deprivation, and be able to track progress in reducing it. 

If the consensus of advice from officials and from other stakeholders is that the material deprivation index, as suggested by the Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Beecroft, is the most appropriate and effective measure then we and most others will support it.

There are of course those who try to highjack the poverty debate and want to make arguments based on measures of income inequality not poverty. That of course means that should say Peter Jackson up sticks and move to Sydney (perhaps with other rich listers), 'poverty' defined using ineqality goes down - a complete nonsens.

Becroft's preferred measure (as described in this Stuff article):

He wants to use the material deprivation index that has 17 indicators and when a child meets at least six they’re considered to be suffering severe hardship.

This is a measure of children not actually having some of the basics such as:

  • two pairs of shoes in good repair and suitable for everyday use
  • meal with meat, fish or chicken (or vegetarian equivalent) at least each 2nd day
  • home contents insurance
  • put up with feeling cold to save on heating costs
  • postponed visits to the doctor
  • in arrears on rates, electricity, water
  • borrowed money from family or friends more than once in the last 12 months to cover everyday living costs

In our view it is more important to get agreement on how to measure child poverty and progress in reducing it than it is to argue over any specific measure. Debate over the various measures risks a lack of agreement on any, and the issue is too important for that. 

We would like to suggest a multiparty group with officials and non-government representatives be appointed by Parliament to do the job. That would be a sign that MPs are serious about the issue, willing to work together and wanting a sound measurement of the problem. 

As with all public expenditure the taxpayers’ interest  is in having that money used as effectively as possible, which means it is absolutely essential to have national statistics of the size of the problem and of whether the Government’s various programmes are making a difference.

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