On Friday I went to the Wellington launch of a new book, Child Poverty in New Zealand, by Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple (Bridget Williams Books). It's been heartening to see the recent upsurge of attention being paid to child poverty, with 285,000 children living in families with incomes below the most generally accepted poverty line: 60% of the median income after housing costs. (The book explains in detail exactly what such "lines" mean and how they work.)
But I've been getting steadily more concerned about what seems to be a general refusal to consider mothers' poverty. Children are almost never independently poor, they are poor when their parents are poor. The group of parents-and-children who are far and away the most likely to be poor in New Zealand are sole parents and their dependent children. And the vast majority of these families are headed by women: 125,000 out of 151,000 in June 2013. The percentage of those receiving a sole-parent benefit who did not have enough income to meet daily needs was 42.2% in 2008, 45.7% in 2010, and 51.1% in 2012. Close to two-thirds of poor children (64%) do not have a parent in full-time paid work. BUT 29% of poor children do have at least one parent in full-time paid work. Despite the state topping up low wages through Working for Families, even full-time paid work does not necessarily keep families out of poverty.
When I've finished reading Child Poverty in New Zealand, I'll be writing more about this issue. But the focus should not and cannot be solely on poor children, and to come up with useful solutions, any analysis has to take the effects of gender inequality fully into account.