An interview with Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills

An interview with Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills

June 24, 2015

Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills says the continued poverty of thousands of New Zealand children results in enduring damage and contributes to 40,000 hospital admissions every year. 

While the Commissioner welcomed the Government’s budget announcement of an increase of $25 a week for the poorest families, he said in a press statement that he is disappointed that this increase isn’t per child and the families will have to wait for another year before that bit of relief comes through.

In addition, he said that the extra benefit increase for families is still not going solve the problem of acute poverty.

“Let’s be clear, a one-off benefit increase is not a plan for child poverty. Where is the plan to reduce crowding, and improve the quality of housing for children?” he said.

Dr Wills wants to see a comprehensive plan to reduce child poverty. 

“A plan would set out exactly how we are going to do better for our children and how we’re going to get there.”

Dr Wills explains that being born into poverty greatly increases a child's chances of getting sick, failing in education, and increases their long-term risks of physical and mental illness, addictions, crime and welfare dependency. 

This imposes large costs on the whole of society. Hence, investing wisely in our youngest and poorest citizens makes sense.


“It's time to focus on developing a plan to reduce child poverty in a significant and durable way. We could start by agreeing on what a reasonable standard of living for a child is and then having a plan to get there over time.

“The plan would need to be future-proofed, as we do for National Superannuation, by linking family assistance and benefit rates to prices and wages,” he said.

The Commissioner also came out strongly recently on the case of the South Auckland toddler whose death was linked to the poor state of her housing by the Coroner. 

Dr Wills said the death was entirely preventable and an example of how housing can have a devastating impact on a young child living in a cold, damp and unheated home.

The Commissioner is again calling on a Warrant of Fitness scheme for both state housing and private rentals, claiming it would make a significant difference to the lives and health of thousands of children.

“We admit 40,000 children, mostly pre-schoolers, to hospital each year with infectious diseases caused by poverty, crowding and poor housing. We need an urgent change and I think a Warrant of Fitness scheme would go a long way in reducing that harm,” he said.  

“Emma-Lita’s case was tragically sad. I hope her death means we talk about this more as New Zealanders and demand more for the thousands of children living in similar situations around the country.” 


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