Salvation Army report: poor Kiwis getting left behind, despite economic growth
Stagnant incomes and rising living costs are pushing more and more Kiwis into poverty, the Salvation Army says.
In its State of the Nation Report, released Wednesday, the charity paints a damning picture of poorer Kiwis being left behind despite economic growth.
This year’s report Kei a Tātou – It is us showed pay packets for families on the breadline were being swallowed by rising living costs.
A “frightening” number of families now call on the ‘Sallies’ for food parcels – up 12 per cent after five years of static demand, the report said.
The 67-page report covers 10 categories including children, crime and punishment, employment and income, social hazards, and housing.
Salvation Army social policy director Lieutenant Colonel Ian Hutson pointed to growing social exclusion for the impoverished and “alarmingly high” suicide rates as problems which should “galvanise” New Zealanders as a society into action.
Although the economy grew by 14 per cent and job numbers rose 15 per cent between 2013 and 2017, sole parent beneficiary incomes only increased by six per cent, widening deficits in their household budgets.
“There was no discernible change in child poverty rates, and youth unemployment remained at around 20 per cent,” the report said.
“While it is not the case for longer periods of time, it is clear that the benefits of this recent strong economic growth have not been shared across the board, or trickled down, as the theory would have it.”
Despite slowly closing gaps, “tens of thousands” of underprivileged youth face academic under-achievement and limited opportunity.
That put them at high risk of “anti-social and personally destructive behaviours”, the report said.
It also partly blamed “liberal” immigration policies for contributing to youth unemployment.
“This suggests that as a society we are overlooking the needs and potential of our young.”
Since 2012, the number of working age people receiving benefits has dropped from 339,000 to below 290,000.
Outcomes for children of families who have come off benefits remain untracked, the report said.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Crime rates are falling, but more Kiwis are being imprisoned, especially for violent offending, the report said.
Prison numbers rose nearly a quarter from 8500 in 2014 to 10,470 by late 2017.
More than 22 per cent of prisoners are now held on remand.
The report also questioned prison’s efficacy on preventing reoffending, stating one third of released prisoners are re-incarcerated within two years.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Virtually all housing affordability indices have worsened since 2012, the report said.
The median price of an Auckland house now costs 13 times the average Auckland wage, as opposed to nine times in 2012.
Nationally, houses now cost seven times the average wage, when in 2012 it was six.
Meanwhile, housing shortages across New Zealand were linked to higher house prices and rents, the report said.
“Homelessness will increase at least over the next one to two years.”
SALVATION ARMY’S WAR ON POVERTY PLAN
Report author and Salvation Army senior analyst Alan Johnson said the charity would “like to see a more liberal social policy approach” from the government.
More generous family support packages, more ambitious house-building programmes, and tighter regulations on gambling and alcohol were needed, he said.
“We also encourage the government to aggressively lift the minimum wage.”
Of all issues, Johnson was hopeful the Jacinda Ardern-led government could have early success in lifting child poverty rates.
“I think the fact the Prime Minister is the Minister of Child Poverty Reduction places some emphasis on that. I think poverty is deeply ingrained and will be hard to reduce.”
However, Johnson, a former economist, believes there is “a risk around the government’s fiscal settings particularly if the economy doesn’t do as well as they hope”.
“It remains to be seen” if Ardern’s government would be prepared to borrow more to fund its social programme if needed, Johnson said.