New Zealand needs to ''wake up'' and tackle child poverty
if it wants to seriously improve the health of the country's
most vulnerable children, a University of Otago researcher says
after working on a report examining child health being released
Dr Elizabeth Craig said the 2012 Children's Social Health
Monitor painted a ''mixed picture'' when it came to child
The report, being launched at a child health forum at
Middlemore Hospital, South Auckland, showed that while there
had been a drop in some conditions more prevalent among
children from poorer families, rates of others, such as
serious skin infections had risen.
Labour MPs Maryan Street and Jacinda Ardern said the report
showed the National Government's ''failure to lift our kids
out of poverty'' was affecting children's health, with one in
five still reliant on a benefit as the main source of their
Dr Craig, who is the director of Otago University's NZ Child
and Youth Epidemiology Service, said the reduction in rates
of ear infections and bacterial pneumonia were partly as a
result of the new pneumococcal vaccine, which was introduced
If New Zealand wanted to see the rates of other conditions
such as skin infections and rheumatic fever drop, it needed
to reduce child poverty and other wider environmental causes,
such as the quality of housing.
She said high rates of these conditions were partly a result
of benefit cuts made in 1991 and if New Zealand wanted to see
these numbers come down, the amount parents received on
benefits needed to be looked at.
"We have kind of got used to this new norm and the new norm
is that we are seeing Third World-diseases in our kids and
... high levels of child poverty.
"I think it's about us waking up and saying: 'Is that what we
really want, is that what we really intended and if it's not,
have we got the guts to do something about it?','' she said.
The report showed that as of April this year 20.1% of New
Zealand children were reliant on a benefit as the main source
of their family's income, down from 20.4% at the
corresponding time last year.
It also showed that the ''rapid increases'' in hospital
admissions for ''socioeconomically sensitive'' medical
conditions seen between 2007 and 2010 had tapered off in
However, the report's authors said it was ''concerning'' that
during the period from 2007 to 2011 there were still on
average 36,409 hospital admissions for ''socioeconomically
sensitive'' conditions in children each year.
It also showed admission rates remained much higher for
Pacific and Maori children, than for European children.
The rates of cot death or sudden unexpected death in infancy
(SUDI) was also a concern, with an average of 23 babies dying
each year as a result of accidental suffocation in bed.
Dr Craig said it was also concerning that deaths from assault
had remained static since 2000, with on average eight
children dying every year after being assaulted. Ms.Arden
said the report showed the Government needed to do more.
''Let's be clear, poverty is making our children sick. Now
more than ever the Government needs to focus on reducing
poverty rates. Until it does, we will all pay the price,''
Health Minister Tony Ryall said the National-led Government
took child health ''very seriously''.
''Supporting vulnerable or potentially vulnerable New
Zealanders is a priority for the Government, which is why
almost a third of all government spending - around $23
billion - goes on social security and welfare."
Initiatives the Government had introduced or extended, such
as expanding free doctor's visits for children under 6 and a
$24 million rheumatic fever programme, were ''making a
difference and improving the health of our children'', he
The Children's Social Health Monitor was launched in 2009 by
a working group, with members from a range of organisations,
to monitor the effect the economic downturn had on children's