In a startling move, the Ministry of Social Development recently decided not to release latest child poverty rates due to “uncertainty” and “lack of confidence” in the data.
MSD briefed the Minister prior to the October release of the Household Incomes Report, the official source for New Zealand’s child poverty statistics. The report’s authors say, “MSD considers that there is too much uncertainty and too much that we cannot explain about the 2016 and 2017 figures for children to allow us to publish with confidence.” MSD has speculated that the child poverty rates are inexplicably better than expected due to under-response from low income households. But after considerable discussion and investigation no concrete conclusions have been reached, leading to the unusual decision to not publish.
Due to the establishment of the Child Poverty Unit and passage of the Child Poverty Reduction Bill, more resources will be put into surveying households. For instance, the sample size will rise from 3,500 to 20,000.
Family First – who published the 2016 report Family Structure and Child Poverty: What is the evidence telling us? – is deeply concerned however that the errors which occurred in 2016 and 2017 may only be magnified if their nature cannot be identified and corrected.
The briefing states, “The Child Poverty Unit has advised that they will be looking into whether the underlying data issues mean there are implications for the CPR Bill and associated matters.”
Sound policy relies heavily on robust evidence. The Prime Minister has made it her personal mission to track and reduce child poverty. Her policies, the Child Poverty Reduction Bill, and their results will be meaningless if the data is faulty.