News

Sick children need leadership on poverty

A Child Poverty Action Group report released today says New Zealand can radically improve the problem of poor child health, if it chooses to address the causes which are rooted in poverty. 

Child Poverty and Health is the first of a series of CPAG policy papers, called Our Children, Our Choice, which will be published in coming months with recommendations for policy change to alleviate child poverty.  In Child Poverty and Health, CPAG makes nine recommendations which would significantly improve the health outcomes of children in poverty.  

A Child Poverty Action Group report released today says New Zealand can radically improve the problem of poor child health, if it chooses to address the causes which are rooted in poverty. 

Child Poverty and Health is the first of a series of CPAG policy papers, called Our Children, Our Choice, which will be published in coming months with recommendations for policy change to alleviate child poverty.

"We tolerate a much higher level of poverty for children than for the rest of the population, which shows in their dreadful health statistics," said CPAG's Co-Convenor Janfrie Wakim.  "It should not be accepted as normal that one in four New Zealand children are poor.   We could reduce child poverty dramatically if we choose to, just as we have done for elderly people."

"New Zealand's investment in children is low by OECD standards," said Janfrie Wakim.  "Investing more in our children's health and well-being right now will have major benefits for society in the long term."

In Child Poverty and Health, CPAG makes nine recommendations which would significantly improve the health outcomes of children in poverty.  (Summary below))  

The report's primary recommendation is that the government develop a comprehensive plan to reduce child poverty with targets, measurable outcomes and regular reporting requirements.

Health spokesperson Professor Innes Asher said, "A good recent example of an effective child health initiative is the improvement in infant and childhood immunisation coverage.  The government developed a plan with targets and measurable outcomes which are now being achieved.  Similarly, New Zealand could adopt a strategic, planned approach with comprehensive policies to reduce child poverty, and commit to these with a cross party accord.  

Poverty is a leading factor contributing to New Zealand's exceptionally high rates of preventable childhood illness, disease, disability and death in New Zealand. Childhood poverty also has long term effects leading to many adult illnesses such as heart disease, mental illness, dental problems and early death.

Professor Asher said, "We think of New Zealand as a fair society, yet the burden of ill-health falls disproportionately on the poorest children who have fewer resources than they need under current policies. If we shared resources more fairly and reduced child poverty, we would not only alleviate the suffering of sick children right now, but also reduce the long term burden of preventable ill-health on our society."

--ENDS--

 

Key Points

Our Children, Our Choice - Child Poverty and Health

New Zealand, like other OECD countries, can solve the problems of poor child health if it chooses to.

A much greater proportion of New Zealand children is affected by poverty now than 2-3 decades ago.

Around 285,000 of our children (27% of all children) live below the 60% income line after housing costs, (the poverty line used by the Ministry of Social Development). Many of these children have their lifelong health and education compromised so poverty effects can persist through generations. For 3 out of 5 of those children, poverty persists over at least seven years - for most of their early formative years. Evidence shows that the longer the period on low income, the greater the harm.

Poor families are cutting back on essentials: children having to share beds, or several to a bedroom; less fresh fruit and vegetables; difficulties heating the house in winter; exposure to damp or mouldy housing; and postponing doctor's visits and not collecting prescriptions because of costs. 

A combination of poverty, unhealthy housing and inadequate access to basic health care underpin the high rates of disease in our children.

There have been some wins - effective child health policies include immunisation coverage and free doctor's visits for under sixes - but overall, action is fragmented, insufficient and lacking a coordinated national framework across health and other sectors.

CPAG has made nine recommendations which would reduce the large burden of preventable ill health in our children:

1. Government to design a comprehensive plan to reduce child poverty that includes actions, targets, measurable outcomes and regular reporting requirements.

2. To improve the outcomes for children in poverty healthcare should provide universal services and targeted extra services based on assessment of further need.

3. Increase health funding for children to a level that achieves equal child health outcomes for all ethnic groups.

4. Effective and universal antenatal care/maternity services to be provided that include national targets and ensure all pregnant women are enrolled with maternity services as early as possible in their pregnancy.

5. Develop and share across all health service providers a universal common assessment plan and pathway for all children starting antenatally; including universal enrolment at birth with primary care, national immunisation register, well child /tamariki ora providers and dental provider.

6. Primary health care services are free for all children from maternity through to age 18, including general practice services, prescriptions, dental and optometry care.

7. Develop and fund programmes to ensure all homes are adequately insulated over the next decade; and develop a ten year national plan to overcome the shortage of affordable housing.

8. Develop a national child nutrition strategy, including a 'food in schools' programme.

9. Establish youth-friendly health and social services in all low decile secondary schools, with sustained Government funding.