Update: For those without high or even medium-speed broadband, the Hansard is below:
4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “the Government prioritised funding increases to health and education, in part because we recognise the fundamental role these public services play in lifting children out of poverty”; if so, how many children are expected to be lifted out of poverty as a result of this year’s funding?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : Yes. In particular I stand by the actions we have taken to improve the lives of children, including the following: 3,500 new places in early childhood education in low participation areas; an increase in general practitioner subsidies so that now 95 percent of high-needs children aged 6 and under have free general practitioner visits; PlunketLine is now fully funded 24/7; immunisation rates have gone from 73 percent to 90 percent; the number of children getting B4 School checks has gone from 3,000 under Labour to over 100,000 under my Government; and massive progress has been made in home insulation, particularly for poorer families. I could go on. I cannot say exactly how much these actions will improve child poverty, but I know they will be a lot more effective than having a Minister of Children.
Hon Annette King: What official advice has he received on the number of children who are classified as living in poverty in New Zealand, and has he sought advice on the costs to taxpayers each year as a result of that poverty; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I may be incorrect but I do not think there is one official measure of poverty for children in New Zealand. I think the Government uses a range of different indicators. So in some of those indicators I have seen as high as one in five children in poverty, which might be explained in one part because there are about 320,000 New Zealanders of working age on a benefit, supporting some 228,000 children. For the most part, those children are probably deemed to be in households that are, for a developed economy like New Zealand’s, considered to be living in poverty.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with the Minister for Social Development and Employment, who said today that the report from the Child Poverty Action Group released yesterday is a political document and a rehash of work already done, and does this mean that the Government intends to disregard its recommendations?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and no, that does not mean that the report will be totally disregarded, but not all of the actions will be followed.
Hon Annette King: What did he use to measure poverty and an underclass in New Zealand when he was in Opposition, and if he was using figures from the Child Poverty Action Group then, as Bill English was, why will he not accept its figures now?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not think the debate is necessarily about the figures; it is about some of the recommendations. We use the same measures as we used then, and the measures we use are of a variety of different indicators, from the household labour force survey through to a number of others that the Government would use, like lack of immunisation and other measures.
Hon Annette King: Does he still disagree with Unicef, which called the New ZealandChildren’s Social Health Monitor: 2010 Update “deeply concerning”, as he did in the House in December 2010, and is he still unconcerned about child poverty growing under his Government in the last 3 years, as shown in the New Zealand Children’s Social Health Monitor: 2011 Update, which was released last week?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot recall the first document, so I would need to go back and refresh my mind on that. In terms of the latter point, all I can say is that I have not refreshed my memory on that. In terms of the latter point, I have never argued that I am satisfied, if that was the word the member used, or—
Hon Annette King: “Unconcerned”.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —“unconcerned”. I have never argued that I am unconcerned. Actually, I am deeply concerned about every child in New Zealand who is in poverty. One of the reasons why we ran deficits—even though I think David Cunliffe argued that we should have slashed Working for Families and therefore not run a deficit before—was exactly to help those children. We will not slash Working for Families, we will not hurt those vulnerable children, I tell Mr Cunliffe, like he was suggesting we should have done, a few questions ago.
Hon Annette King: Does the Prime Minister still believe that Working for Families is “communism by stealth”, as he said when he was in Opposition, and said that he would change, but changed his mind when he got into Government?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Absolutely I do, when the abatement rates are 102 percent of income. I am pleased to say we are a Government that effectively dealt with that issue.
Hon John Boscawen: Does he agree that lifting New Zealand children out of poverty is critical to achieving the joint goal of ACT and National of catching up with Australia’s income per head by 2025?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Absolutely it is, because if one can lift average incomes, then on that basis more and more people will benefit from those higher incomes, and therefore there will be greater support for those families. In the end, that is why both parties agree with sensible economic policies that will advocate for that case.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree with the Child Poverty Action Group that successive Governments—Labour and National—have failed the poorest children in New Zealand with discriminatory Working for Families tax credits; and will he commit to ending this discrimination against our poorest children and their families?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am sure the member will appreciate that that matter is before the courts at the moment, so I am quite limited in what I can say, except to say that as an overarching principle, when in-work tax credits were introduced by the previous Labour Government it was to ensure that there was always a difference between working and welfare. That strikes me as a sensible concept.
Metiria Turei: Is the Prime Minister not aware of the Ministry of Social Development report that shows that for every five children living in poverty, two are in households that earn an income through work, which clearly shows that work is not the solution to poverty, because wages have been kept so low by his Government and the previous Government so that working parents cannot even afford the basics for their kids?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Maybe I can answer the question by asking a question: if the way to get out of poverty is not work, why are the vast bulk of people who are working not in poverty?
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree that setting bold targets, just as the Government did with the historical Treaty settlements, provides a clear focus for policy that increases the chance of success; if so, will he join with the Green Party in setting a goal to bring at least 100,000 children out of poverty by 2014?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, we will not be joining with the Green Party, but our goal is certainly to lift as many youngsters out of poverty as we can.