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Child poverty

Updated: 7 November 2014

Poverty blights a child’s life. It reduces the opportunity for children to develop their gifts and talents, stifles educational achievement and reduces labour productivity and earnings ability. Every Child Counts research shows that poverty costs at least $6bn per annum in extra health costs, remedial education, and lower productivity across a lifetime.

Many children will slip in and out of poverty as family circumstances change. Job loss or redundancy, illness and costly medical treatment, relationship breakdown – many factors can cause temporary poverty. Most children, however, have the resilience to cope well enough with such temporary setbacks.

But long term or recurrent poverty is a different story altogether. Such poverty can have serious and permanent effects on a child as it influences their physical, emotional and social development. The causes of long term poverty are various and can include for example long term illness or disability, labour market conditions, social and health issues, housing costs, low pay or insecure employment.

The social consequences of child poverty are long term and manifold. Research shows that children that grow up in poverty tend to have poorer health in adulthood and gain fewer educational and vocational qualifications.

Ending poverty is important morally and economically. As the population grows older, we will be more dependent on today’s children and young people to pay taxes and keep our economy going. In 2024, for the first time ever we’ll have more people over 65 than under 14 years of age.

Measuring poverty

There are different ways to measure poverty. An income based measurement is a common measure and defines poverty as families living off less than 60% of New Zealand’s median income after housing costs. Under this measure there are 305,000 children living in poverty. Another common measure is material hardship which measures things children need but regularly go without (for example a good bed, replacing worn out clothing, visiting the doctor when sick). Under this measure there are 148,000 children living in poverty.

Māori and Pasifika children are disproportionately affected by child poverty. Around 34% of Māori children and 28% of Pasifika children are living in poverty compared to 16% of Pākehā children (using an income based measure).

To learn more, click on the documents below. 

Child Poverty Monitor - provides the latest statistics on child poverty in New Zealand

Maori Narratives of Poverty - This report records the experiences of eight Māori whānau living in poverty and hardship.

Eradicating child poverty in New Zealand - provides the case for eradicating child poverty.

Te Ara Hou - The pathway forward - This report explores factors contributing to Māori and Pasifika child poverty.

Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty. This report outlines a comprehensive set of solutions to end child poverty.


Child Poverty Action Group’s policy paper series, Our Children, Our Choice: Priorities for Policy provided an overview of the situation of New Zealand's poorest children in the lead up to the 2014 general election and recommendations to end child poverty.


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