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Child poverty: For some families, life is a relentless, exhausting struggle

Opinion article written by Julie Chapman, Chief Executive and founder of KidsCan

Republished from

I can still remember the excitement of the first day of school.

The quintessential photo on the doorstep proudly displaying my new uniform. A school bag full of carefully laminated stationery. A lunch box bursting with food.

It's the way that all Kiwi kids should head off to class, but for far too many this is miles from their reality. 

This year at KidsCan, we are hearing stories of children who will miss that important first day of school because they are sharing a uniform, shoes, or a bus pass with their siblings. 

They are coming on alternate days so every child gets a small bite of learning.

Can you imagine what that must be like as a parent? Life is a relentless, exhausting struggle to stretch their money further than it can go, and the stress and shame of not being able to provide for their children is enormous.

More and more schools are putting their hands up for help. This term we are adding 47 more schools to the 740 already receiving KidsCan support.

787 schools whose families are struggling to afford the basics is no cause for celebration. We are gearing up for our biggest year yet, providing breakfast, hot meals, snacks, raincoats, shoes and health essentials like sanitary items, so kids can focus on learning.

We know we're making a difference, but it's not enough. How can people get out of poverty when 70 per cent of their income goes on rent?

When 14,000 families are languishing on the Housing NZ waitlist? When parents working two jobs each can't make ends meet?

The Children's Commissioner hasn't pulled any punches: "We can't sit here while Rome burns." Like him, I want to see benefits increased by at least 20 per cent.

It's a simple move we can afford to make now, a meaningful change a government can, and should be making. Keeping people in abject poverty isn't good for anyone. We need to invest in families who are at breaking point now. 

When benefits were raised in the UK, most families spent the money on food. A London School of Economics report highlighted the power that extra money has for kids. It improved their cognitive development and school achievement, social and behavioural development, and health.

Kiwi kids deserve this chance. Childhood is the most critical stage of our lives, the foundation for everything that comes next, good or bad.

I want 2020 to be the year these vulnerable families get the help they need. Putting a bit more in their wallets will ease the enormous stress they're living under, a life so unimaginable to most New Zealanders.

Let this be the year we show these kids there is more to life than hardship.


Julie Chapman is chief executive and founder of KidsCan

This article has been republished from Stuff. Click here to read this and other related articles:



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