One of the many things obscured in last night’s The Vote about children’s issues was the simple fact that incomes aren’t high enough at the lowest end for parents to give their children a decent start in life.
The figure of $30,000 being ‘poverty’ for a family with four children was tossed around as if it wasn’t real poverty, but no-one broke down the figures for what it’s like to be on a minimum income.
A two-parent family, even with just two children, living on one full-time minimum wage salary of $540 a week (2012 figures), has around $460 after tax, and maybe $790 with Working for Families and the accommodation supplement.
Rent can easily be $250, feeding a two-child family well – by meeting nutritional guidelines in the cheapest way possible – costs about $260, running a car is around $85. Power costs can often be $50.
So once bare survival is taken care of, just $145 a week may be left for everything else: $5 a day per person to cover clothing, a phone, replacing or repairing appliances, healthcare costs, and so on.
Since that’s obviously not enough, something has to give. And that’s why children come to school without having had breakfast, or proper clothing; that’s why they live in houses that aren’t properly heated.
This is why people say there are 270,000 children in poverty: they are the children living in families like the one above, families with less than 60% of the income of an average household in New Zealand.
Not only is that – as Russell Wills pointed out – an internationally standard definition, it’s also the amount that focus groups with real New Zealanders have shown to be the minimum amount to have a vaguely decent life.
So yes, anything under that is poverty.