[Sitting date: 30 May 2012. Volume:680;Page:2665. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the
Minister for Social Development: How many children will be lifted out of poverty as a result of Budget 2012?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development)
: Budget 2012 will build a stronger economy, which will drive employment growth, leading to strong and resilient families. As a consequence, children will be better off. That is what Budget 2012 is all about. There is not an official measure of poverty, so as such you cannot give a number.
Jacinda Ardern: Does she accept the Children’s Commissioner’s estimate that failure to invest in the early years of a child can come at a cost of $1 million to taxpayers per child; and if so, how much did the Government invest in children in this Budget to save the future cost of up to 270,000 children in poverty?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I certainly dispute the numbers that the member uses, but the Children’s Commissioner’s $1 million for individual children I think depends on their circumstances. So I certainly would not say—and, of course, poverty is relative. Also, children can move in and out of poverty throughout their lives, as adults can, as well. So there are certainly some caveats around those kinds of predictions.
Jacinda Ardern: What appropriations in Vote Social Development, or in the Budget generally, address the issue flagged by the briefing to incoming Minister by the Ministry of Social Development, which stated: “around two in five poor children were from households where at least one adult was in fulltime employment”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think what the member raises is also quite interesting, as what we are investing in in this Budget for those children, whom we see as important. What we saw certainly is an increase when you look at health. So around rheumatic fever more money is going in there; and to those under-6-year-olds and their access to health, to their general practitioner, and to after-hours care as well. Certainly, what you are also seeing is a real investment in those intensive home visits in the early years, and that will make a significant difference. So I would say that this Budget certainly has raised a lot of issues. What we are doing, though, is targeting it, and targeting it to those children who need it most, instead of the kind of scattergun approach that we saw under Labour
Jacinda Ardern: Does she accept that according to the Unicef scorecard on child poverty, released today—in which New Zealand was found to spend 50 percent of the OECD average on a child’s early years, amongst other countries that have all experienced the same recession—“failure to protect children from poverty … is one of the most costly mistakes a society can make.”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do think there is certainly money that should be invested in those early years, and this Government is certainly investing more than the previous Labour Government was in its years. So we are investing more in those children than actually ever has been before, and that is making a significant difference. That goes across health, across education, across certainly the Ministry of Social Development within Child, Youth and Family and Work and Income. But there is no doubt about it that all evidence presents that those who are in work have their children better off. I think that welfare reforms make a real difference to that.
Jacinda Ardern: If the Children’s Commissioner’s expert group on child poverty recommends targets to eradicate child poverty when it reports later this year, will she implement such targets; if not, why not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That is hypothetical. I am not going to pre-empt what that report comes out with and as such make a judgment on it.