Child Poverty and Health Policy Paper

Our Children, Our Choice: Priorities for Policy Series - Child Poverty and Health

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

Download the full report here: 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.