Poverty costs hit hard

The social and economic consequences of not taking action to reduce child poverty in New Zealand are too costly to everyone, according to the NZ College of Public Health Medicine.

President Dr Julia Peters says the level of persistent child poverty since the economic reforms of the 1980’s has hovered at around 20% and this is a risk to the long term health and prosperity of all New Zealanders.

“The social costs are unacceptable too. As a society we can be judged by the way we treat our children and unfortunately New Zealand children aren’t doing so well. They need to be a priority as it is much more effective to prevent problems in the first place than it is to deal with them later,” says Dr Peters.

The College says New Zealand has much work to do to lift children out of poverty.

“As public health physicians we want to see priority given to very young and economically deprived children as they are the group most harmed by persistent material poverty. Consideration should be given to housing improvements, high quality antenatal and parenting programmes, quality early childhood education, school meals and after school homework programmes. This may require society to re-consider its spending priorities,” says Dr Peters.

“Many families are living in substandard, overcrowded, cold and damp housing. There is evidence that more than a third of New Zealanders live in houses with visible mould.”

She says there needs to be leadership at the highest level to address these important health issues, so that children can be given the best start in life.

“We need a cross-sectorial plan to reduce child poverty with measurable targets that are monitored. In particular we need to reduce poverty amongst Maori and Pacific children. The plan should draw on the recommendations from the Children’s Commissioner’s EAG report released late last year.”

The College says it wants to see a re-doubling of effort across all sectors to ensure that once again, New Zealand is a great place to bring up kids.