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elections nz

For The Record: Which NZ Politicians Care About Child Poverty?

Put on the spot, every major MP admits it's a problem. But we checked the records of New Zealand's politicians.

by Tess McClure
23 August 2017, 2:28am

Ashley Goodall


New Zealand's performance on child poverty has become an abysmal stain on the country's record. Depending on which measure you use, up to 28 percent—or 295,000 children—spend the first years of their lives below the poverty line. Around 145,000 children live without basic necessities, like shoes, enough food, or warm clothing. Otago University's Child Poverty Monitor found on average 28 children die each year of poverty-related medical conditions.

VICE's new election series, For the Record, looks less at what politicians say or promise, and instead gives you the receipts on what they do: which way they've voted, what laws they've drafted, and what they've pushed for in the hallowed halls of Parliament.

We've assessed the records of 11 of the most influential MPs and party leaders. And we've looked into their voting histories on key laws relating to child welfare over the last decade. Here you can find their stances on issues including safe housing and insulation, child-poverty reduction, lunches for kids in poor schools, support for single parents and beneficiaries. It's not a comprehensive record, but we hope it helps paint a picture of what your MP's approach really looks like. As for which MPs really care? We'll let you decide.

Jacinda Ardern, Labour

Child Poverty
Ardern has drafted her own Child Poverty Bill, which establishes a measurement for child poverty and sets targets to reduce it—but it's never been drawn, debated, or voted on, and has been effectively gathering dust since 2012.

Healthy Homes & Insulation
Supported Labour's recent Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, which sets higher standards for insulation and heating in rentals.

Lunches in Schools
Voted in favour of the 'Feed the Kids' Bill that would provide breakfast and lunch to kids in decile one and two schools. She said, "If you strip that right back, do we want our kids to go hungry? The obvious answer is no." The bill was voted down by National, ACT, and United Future at first reading.

Single Parents & Benefit Reform
Ardern was critical of sweeping changes to solo-parent benefits in 2012, including the introduction of part-time work testing for sole parents of children aged five years and older and full-time work testing for sole parents of children aged 14 years and over; saying National was pushing beneficiaries into jobs that didn't exist.

Working for Families
It was before Ardern's time, but Labour created the original Working for Families Bill in 2004 which gave more dollars to middle- and low-income families with children.
She reluctantly supported the Support for Children in Hardship Act 2015, which raised benefits for families with children by about $25 a week, saying it was better than nothing but that more action was needed.

Bill English, National

Child Poverty
English's legacy project is his "social investment" strategy—which advocates more data-informed spending now on at-risk children and families, to save money down the track. It remains to be seen how exactly this will work, but English has earmarked an additional $321 million in the latest budget.

Healthy Homes & Insulation
Voted against Labour's Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, which sets higher standards for heating and insulation in rentals. He has, however, supported a bill of National's own requiring more insulation and fire alarms.
The National government also rolled out a programme to subsidise insulation, but the scheme is due to be halted, despite researchers saying it has a 6:1 benefit to cost ratio.

Lunches in Schools
National voted against the 'Feed the Kids' Bill that would provide breakfast and lunch to kids in decile one and two schools.

Single Parents & Benefit Reform
English was part of the working group that designed sweeping changes to solo-parent benefits in 2012, including the introduction of part-time work testing for sole parents of children aged five years and older and full-time work testing for sole parents of children aged 14 years and over. More reforms in 2013 included requiring solo mothers claiming a benefit to return to work when their child is 12 months old, if their older children are aged over five.

Working for Families
Voted against the original Working for Families Bill which to give more social support to middle- and low-income families with children. But English's 2015 budget increased Working for Families payments for low-income families and those on benefits by about $25 a week—the first increase in benefits in 43 years.

Paula Bennett, National

Healthy Homes & Insulation
National voted against Labour's Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, which sets higher standards for insulation in both public and private rentals.
National, however, supported a bill of their own requiring more insulation and fire alarms.
The National government also rolled out a programme to subsidise insulation, but the scheme is due to be halted, despite researchers saying it has a 6:1 benefit to cost ratio.

Lunches in Schools
Voted against the 'Feed the Kids' Bill that would provide breakfast and lunch to kids in decile one and two schools.

Single Parents & Benefit Reform
In 2012, Bennett oversaw sweeping changes to solo-parent benefits, including the introduction of part-time work testing for sole parents of children aged five years and older and full-time work testing for sole parents of children aged 14 years and over. More reforms in 2013 included requiring solo mothers claiming a benefit to return to work when their child is 12 months old, if their older children are aged over five.
In 2009, Bennett introduced further restrictions to the training incentive allowance, which pays for single parents' further education.

Working for Families
National voted against Labour's 2004 Working for Families Bill which gives more social support to middle- and low-income families with children, but in subsequent budgets, including 2015, increased the payments for low-income families and those on benefits by around $25 a week.
National voted for the Support for Children in Hardship Bill 2015, which which forced beneficiary parents to seek part-time work when their children turned three and raised benefits for families with children by around $25 a week.

Winston Peters, NZ First

Healthy Homes & Insulation
Supported Labour's Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, which sets higher standards for insulation in both public and private rentals.

Lunches in Schools
Voted in favour of the the 'Feed the Kids' Bill that would provide breakfast and lunch to kids in low decile schools. The bill was voted down by National, ACT, and United Future at first reading.

Single Parents & Benefit Reform
Peters voted against sweeping welfare reforms in 2012 which affected single mothers on benefits, saying, "The new measures have been designed by rich people to keep the poor and downtrodden in their place at the bottom of the heap."

Working For Families
NZ First voted for Labour's Working for Families Bill which gives more social support to middle and low income families with children.

NZ First voted in favour of the Support for Children in Hardship Bill, but they believe that it is too narrow in scope and will only address approximately one percent of children living in poverty. Voted against the bill on first reading.

James Shaw, Greens

Child Poverty
Shaw believes more needs to be done to define child poverty in New Zealand. Former Co-leader Metiria Turei had put forward a proposed members bill in 2016 called the Child Poverty Definition, Measurement, and Assessment Bill. However, the bill never made it into Parliament.

Healthy Homes
Supported Labour's Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, making a note of questioning the Government's decision to end subsidies for home insulation, as outlined in this year's budget.
Argued against the halting of an insulation scheme that under National is due to be halted.
Shaw said, "If a 6:1 benefit-cost ratio to tackle a problem that puts kids in hospital 40,000 times, and kills more people than the road toll every year, doesn't meet the criteria to be considered a good social investment, what does?"

Lunches in Schools
Voted in favour of the 'Feed the Kids' bill. In 2015 Shaw suggested the Government should introduce a fully funded lunch programme after the bill failed to make it past the first reading.

Working for Families
The Green Party voted for the Working for Families Bill, which gives more social support to middle- and low-income families with children.
The Green Party voted for the Support for Children in Hardship Bill in 2015, which increased benefits for families with children but mirrored Labour and NZ First's comments, saying it did not go far enough.

Single Parents & Benefit Reform
It was before Shaw's time, but the Green Party voted unanimously against reforms to benefits in 2012, which included the introduction of part-time work testing for sole parents of children aged five years and older and full-time work testing for sole parents of children aged 14 years and over, as well as requiring solo mothers claiming a benefit to return to work when their child is 12 months old, if their older children are aged over five.
This year he's running on an election promise to "repair the safety net," which includes raising core benefits by 20 percent and scrapping all sanctions, including penalties for women who fail to reveal the name of their child's father, or sole parents who want to begin a long-term relationship.

Marama Fox, Māori Party

Healthy Homes & Insulation
Supported Labour's Healthy Homes Bill, which sets higher standards for insulation in both public and private rentals.
In 2016, Fox claimed credit for the increase in funding for emergency housing, saying the Māori Party pushed hard on the issue through the ministerial committee on poverty. She said, "They spent zero dollars on emergency housing when we came into government...they're now spending $300 million."

Lunches in Schools
Voted in favour of the 'Feed the Kids' bill that would provide breakfast and lunch to kids in decile one and two schools.

Single Parents & Benefit Reform
It was before Fox's time in Parliament, but the Māori party supported controversial welfare reforms in 2012 which affected single mothers on benefits. Since entering Parliament, Fox has said she favours an increase in benefits, saying "We think the benefit rate is too low and that needs to change. Those on a benefit live in poverty but it's their children who go to school hungry and without shoes."

Working for Families
The Māori Party was formed in 2004, after Labour introduced its Working for Families scheme which increased social support for low- and middle-income families.
The Māori Party supported National's Support for Children in Hardship Bill, which increased benefits for families with children by around $25 a week.

Kelvin Davis, Labour

Child Poverty
The MP for Te Tai Tokerau, a region with high levels of child poverty, Kelvin Davis has in the past committed to a charter for children, a dedicated ministry, 24/7 free medical access for kids under six, and removing GST from vegetables to make them cheaper for low-income families.

Healthy Homes & Insulation
Davis voted for the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, which sets higher standards for heating and insulation in rentals. He has been vocal about housing when it comes to discussion around affordability for Māori, promising a Māori Housing Unit to specifically address the housing needs of Māori.

Lunches in Schools
Voted in favour of the 'Feed the Kids' bill, which would provide breakfast and lunch for kids in low-decile schools.

Single Parents & Benefit Reform
National's reforms to solo-parent benefits in 2012, happened during Davis' brief retirement from politics. Labour opposed the changes to social security legislation that would see part-time work testing for solo-parents with children over five, and full-time work testing for solo-parents with children over 14.

Working for Families
Working for Families, which gave more money to low- and middle-income families, was created by Labour in 2004, before Davis was a member of parliament. Voted in favour of the Support for Children in Hardship Bill, which raised benefits for families with children by around $25 a week, but said the bill doesn't go far enough, and will only address approximately one percent of children living in poverty.

Stephen Joyce, National

Healthy Homes & Insulation
National voted against Labour's Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, which sets higher standards for insulation in both public and private rentals.

Lunches in Schools
National voted against the 'Feed the Kids' bill that would provide breakfast and lunch to kids in decile one and two schools.

Single Parents & Benefit Reform
Supported National's sweeping changes to solo-parent benefits between 2009 and 2013, which included the introduction of part-time work testing for solo parents of children aged five years and older and full-time work testing for solo parents of children aged 14 years and over, as well as requiring solo mothers claiming a benefit to return to work when their child is 12 months old, if their older children are aged over five.

Working for Families
National voted against Labour's 2004 Working for Families Bill which gives more social support to middle- and low-income families with children, but in subsequent budgets, including 2015, increased the payments for low income families and those on benefits by around $25 a week.

Support for Children in Hardship Bill 2015
National voted for the Support for Children in Hardship Bill, which which forced beneficiary parents to seek part-time work when their children turned three, and increased benefits for families with children by around $25 a week.

Gerry Brownlee, National

Healthy Homes & Insulation
National voted against Labour's Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, which sets higher standards for insulation in both public and private rentals.

Lunches in Schools
National voted against the 'Feed the Kids' bill that would provide breakfast and lunch to kids in decile one and two schools.

Single Parents & Benefit Reform
Supported National's sweeping changes to solo-parent benefits between 2009 and 2013, which included the introduction of part-time work testing for sole parents of children aged five years and older and full-time work testing for sole parents of children aged 14 years and over, as well as requiring solo mothers claiming a benefit to return to work when their child is 12 months old, if their older children are aged over five.

Working For Families
Voted against the Working for Families Bill in 2004 which gives more social support to middle- and low-income families with children. Brownlee said that National "understand[s] the Government's embarrassment over this bill," during the bill's second reading.
But in subsequent budgets, including 2015, National increased the payments for low-income families and those on benefits by around $25 a week.
National supported the Support for Children in Hardship Bill in 2015, which forced beneficiary parents to seek part-time work when their children turned three, as well as increasing benefits for families with dependent children by $25 per week.

Judith Collins

Healthy Homes & Insulation
National voted against Labour's Healthy Homes Bill, which sets higher standards for insulation in both public and private rentals.

Lunches in Schools
National voted against the 'Feed the Kids' bill that would provide breakfast and lunch to kids in decile one and two schools.

Single Parents & Benefit Reform
Supported National's sweeping changes to solo-parent benefits between 2009 and 2013, which included the introduction of part-time work testing for solo parents of children aged five years and older and full-time work testing for solo parents of children aged 14 years and over, as well as requiring solo mothers claiming a benefit to return to work when their child is 12 months old, if their older children are aged over five.
As Welfare Spokeswoman in 2005, Collins advocated for single mothers to be sanctioned or lose their benefit if they did not name the father of their child.

Working for Families
National voted against the Working for Families Bill which gives more social support to middle and low income families with children.

Support for Children in Hardship Act 2015
Voted for National's Support for Children in Hardship Bill, which forced beneficiary parents to seek part-time work when their children turned three and increased benefits for families with children by around $25 a week.

Andrew Little, Labour

Child Poverty
In 2015 he promised to make eradicating child poverty the benchmark for a Labour government, and said any decision his Government made would be checked against child poverty.
"Every Budget, every year... we will front up and tell the country how many children a Labour government has lifted out of poverty."

Healthy Homes & Insulation
Andrew's Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, which sets standards for heating and insulation in rentals has just reached its second reading. Little says the bill will make "a safe and healthy life in rental homes in New Zealand a reality for the children of New Zealand and their parents".

Lunches in Schools
Voted in favour of the 'Feed the Kids' bill, which would provide breakfast and lunch for kids in low decile schools.

Single Parents & Benefit Reform
Labour opposed sweeping changes to solo-parent benefits in 2012, including the introduction of part-time work testing for sole parents of children aged five years and older and full-time work testing for sole parents of children aged 14 years and over.

Working for Families
Labour's Working for Families Bill, which gave more social support to middle and low income families with children, was well before Little's time. But in this year's campaign, he's promised to increase payments for middle-income families by $48 a week.

Voted in favour of the Support for Children in Hardship Bill, which raised benefits for families with children by around $25 a week, but said the bill doesn't go far enough and will only address approximately one percent of children living in poverty.

Got an election issue you want VICE to investigate, something we've missed, or a tip on an MP's record you think we should mention? Email tess.mcclure@vice.com

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Additional reporting from Sophie Gray and Ryan Scott