I have a young son, born earlier this year into a family where he is loved, supported, and nurtured.
This is true of the majority of children born in our country.
Sadly, despite being loved, a significant minority of children in New Zealand are born into cold, damp overcrowded houses, challenged by the hunger and the stress of poverty. This is not ok.
Our local Labour Party Branch has set itself the goal of learning more about child poverty in our country in order to contribute to its eradication. To this end, we held a child poverty forum last week.
Elizabeth Craig, the Director of the New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service and Nicky Taylor, Director of Anglican Family Care were invited to share their wisdom. The general public were also invited to attend.
Although I’ve seen similar statistics before, I was struck again by the obvious links between low incomes and a variety of preventable medical conditions. Over 20% of children born in this country are dependent on a parent who is a benefit recipient. Put another way, the adequacy (or inadequacy) of the benefit provided affects one out of every five children born.
Research tells that our benefits are not adequate.
Preventable illnesses, which have huge personal cost (as well as a financial cost to the whole country in health-care dollars) are too prevalent. Bronchiolitis admissions are but one example:
Deprivation also leads to despair and a broken spirit, which money alone will not fix. Social deprivation harms meaningful integration into society. Tragically, those who do not feel valued, and able to make a contribution are more likely to end up angry, frustrated and anti-social.
Those experiencing severe hardship (as depicted in the colourful New Zealand living standards survey 2004 bar graph two above) frequently go without a wide variety of things. Most, if not all of these things are what a caring, inclusive and respectful society would want for all of its children. This experience is contrasted with those in the middle classes on the right of the chart below.
Experiences of deprivation and disenfranchisement as a child can cause life-long problems. Money directed towards resolving child-poverty will come too late for many, and for years to come our country will be dealing with the fallout of hardship already experienced.
And if left unaddressed, the problems of deprivation will grow – as greater numbers of children are born into the hardest situations.
The last Labour Government lifted large numbers of children out of poverty, and reduced its ill-effects through policies such as Working For Families, Income Related Rents, and home insulation subsidies. And it grew the wealth of our country without growing inequalities.
But more needs to be done.
In the UK, the previous Labour Government attempted to address child poverty by directing 1% of GDP toward solutions. It seems that that was not enough. We need to be clear that if we as a country want to grapple properly with this issue, it will not be cheap. We need a government with vision that is prepared to address the big issues.
*Our local branch has a history of influencing Labour Party policy formation, and this year we’ve decided to tackle a big issue which requires tough choices. We’re hoping our efforts and those of others who join us will influence party policy in a useful way. Credit to Steve O’Connor who did a significant amount of the organisation for this first child poverty event.
Graphs and charts in this post are sourced from the New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service.