Building a better country for our children was the theme, as national leaders addressed The Salvation Army’s annual Red Shield Appeal Breakfasts.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined her Government’s commitment to improving the lives of children, at the breakfast in Wellington. While Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft challenged Auckland attendees on their role in keeping children at the core through supporting work being done to reduce child poverty and disadvantage.
A crowd of 387 people attended in Auckland and Wellington, the largest group ever to attend the Red Shield Breakfasts. The Prime Minister told the audience she believed New Zealand shared her passion for the importance of addressing child poverty and thanked the Army and other charities for their work.
A personal passion
Speaking ahead of the budget, she announced an extra $76 million of funding over four years for agencies combatting domestic violence, calling it ‘another challenge that gets in the way of us being the best country in the world to be a child’.
She told the audience of her personal drive to address the issue, after reviewing reports from the coroner’s office on children’s deaths in New Zealand. ‘What I read I did not expect at all. What I saw in those reports was an overwhelming number of children and young people who had taken their own lives. The theme behind almost every single one of those reports was family violence.’
Ms Ardern also outlined the Government’s intention to address health, housing and education as the foundations of building a better nation.
‘We know we’re a better society when everyone has a warm dry place to call home, when they have access to the doctor, to modern hospitals and when our children have access to the best education possible. These are the strong foundations for our country and those strong foundations start with a strong foundation for kids.’
A pivotal moment
Speaking at the Auckland breakfast, Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said New Zealand faced a pivotal moment in addressing child poverty. A key was the Government’s Child Poverty Reduction Bill, which was the first time in 30 years a government had introduced a clear, comprehensive plan to address poverty, he said. ‘This is the opportunity of a lifetime and I hope they grab it.’
However, the solution could not just be from government and would require action from each of us. He urged each person to reflect on their vision for New Zealand and what they could do in their community to make a difference.
The breakfasts also saw panel discussions with Major Pam Waugh, Judge Becroft and Salvation Army senior policy analyst Alan Johnson, reflecting on ways to bring down child poverty.
Judge Becroft described it as ‘scandalous’ that while superannuation was set to increase with inflation and the cost of living, other benefits were not—and took the opportunity to speak directly to the Minister of Social Development in the audience, urging her to make the change.
Major Waugh reflected on the challenges faced by families The Salvation Army work with, telling the audience 68,000 children per year rely on The Salvation Army just for basics such as food, clothing, housing support, adequate blankets and more. Big areas such as housing and debt need major work to help break the poverty trap, but families also need the Army’s in-depth services through advocacy, building life skills and other ways to build resilience, she said.
Mr Johnson said it was good that the levels of awareness around poverty and issues such as homelessness had been raised in recent years, and public support would be needed to achieve significant change, he said. ‘New Zealanders are compassionate and empathetic and I think we have to build on that.’
Speaking about issues of welfare dependency, Mr Johnson said it’s important to acknowledge that there were some people who, because of illness or disability, will always rely on welfare support—but it’s important to create opportunities for others to move on from benefits and other support. In particular, single parents need opportunities to move back into the workforce after staying at home with their children, he said.
Addressing family violence
Both Major Waugh and Mr Johnson spoke about the importance of the extra funding for family violence programmes, in helping give children the best start possible.
Violence is often made worse by stress, and practical solutions are needed to get to the root causes and give people space to build new skills for addressing violence, Mr Johnson said.
Major Waugh also spoke about The Salvation Army’s new Breakthrough Programme with Parenting Place, helping fathers who have been violent to rebuild relationships safely with their children. Looking beyond the problems to solutions was key, she said.
‘All the parents we see want to be good parents, but something keeps getting in the way. The people we see don’t need our judgement, they get enough of that already. They need our support to change their lives.’
Thank you to our 2018 Red Shield Appeal Breakfasts Sponsors, a special thanks to Toyota Financial Services for their $150,000 in sponsorship of the breakfasts over the years.