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Almost 150,000 Kiwi kids come from homes that can't afford the essentials, like shoes. Photo/Getty

Back to school costs keep kids at home – survey

Some children in poverty are missing school because they are sharing one uniform, a pair of shoes or a bus pass with their siblings, a KidsCan survey has revealed.

More than 200 decile 1-4 schools responded to the charity's survey on back to school costs. KidsCan supports 787 New Zealand schools by providing children with breakfast, snacks, hot meals, raincoats, shoes and sanitary items.

Teachers surveyed said students were often absent on the all-important first day or week of school because they didn’t have the supplies they needed, meaning they missed out on learning.

“We had [four] boys attending on different days of the week and the excuse was illness... turned out they only had one school shirt so they picked their favourite day of classes to come. Mum was too embarrassed to tell anyone,” a teacher wrote. 

Another teacher said many parents kept their children home until they could afford books, stationery, or uniforms.

“Some have to choose between feeding their children or stationery, and stationery will always lose."

Teachers wrote of children feeling embarrassed and anxious without the essentials: “We’ve had children with sore stomachs, anxiety, crying... because they do not have the right uniform, stationery, shoes, or money to go on camps.”

Related article: Why poverty in New Zealand is everyone's concern

KidsCan’s CEO and founder Julie Chapman said the survey highlighted the level of hardship in New Zealand right now, and the enormous impact it’s having on kids.

Hardship can also be measured by the Ministry of Social Development DEP-17 survey.

It asks families if they can provide 17 items considered essential by most Kiwis. The items are: two pairs of usable shoes for each child; two sets of warm winter clothes; one waterproof coat; a school uniform; money to go on school trips; being able to play a sport; a separate bed for each child; fresh fruit and vegetables daily; a meal with protein every second day; books in the home; a place to do homework; having friends around to play and eat; being able to hold a birthday party; and access to a computer for schoolwork. 

In 2018, there were about 148,000 children (13%) living in households that were unable to afford six or more essentials. Six percent, about 65,000, were living in households experiencing severe material hardship with a lack of nine or more essentials.

Percentage of children living in households experiencing material hardship, 2013–18. Graph/Stats NZ

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