Tackling child poverty to improve educational performance

Prof Jonathan Boston
Prof Jonathan Boston

Rates of child poverty in New Zealand are well above those of the best performing OECD countries and this has been the case for more than two decades.

In a paper presented at Accent Learning’s “Poverty Impacts on Learning” symposium, Jonathan Boston, Professor of Public Policy at Victoria University, says that given the high value which many New Zealanders place on equality of opportunity and social equality, together with the widespread claim that New Zealand is a great place to bring up children, this is surprising.

He says it should also be of major public concern. Child poverty imposes substantial economic and social costs and some of these are long-term in nature.

“Whatever one’s ideological stance - be it that of a conservative, a market liberal or a social democratic, there is a strong economic case for seeking lower rates of child poverty.”

The evidence suggests that child poverty, especially when experienced in early childhood and/or when persistent and severe, can be very damaging – both to the children directly affected and society as a whole. Amongst other things, child poverty contributes to the large educational achievement gaps between children from lower and higher SES backgrounds.The negative impacts take various forms, he says.

For the children directly exposed to poverty the consequences often include significant suffering and hardship as well as much more constrained life-chances resulting from lower educational achievement, reduced lifetime earnings and poorer health outcomes.

For the wider society the negative impacts of child poverty include increased health care costs, lower productivity growth and higher rates of criminal offending.In short, the empirical evidence suggests that substantial rates of child poverty reduce a nation’s prosperity, he says. For such reasons, there is a powerful case for reducing child poverty.He argues that decision-makers already have the available policy tools to alleviate child poverty and mitigate its effects – at least to some extent.The issue, in other words, is not the means, but the political will.

“Whatever one’s ideological stance - be it that of a conservative, a market liberal or a social democratic, there is a strong economic case for seeking lower rates of child poverty.”

If other ethical values are also added to the mix, such as ensuring fair educational and employment opportunities for all children, the goal of alleviating child poverty becomes even more compelling, he argues.

(Read Prof Boston’s full paper which includes the comparative statistics on which his argument is based together with proposed solutions.)

 

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