With the inaugural Child Poverty Monitor showing that 16 % of kiwi kids will live in poverty for much of their childhood, I was stunned to hear the Social Development Minister say she was “incredibly proud” of her Government’s record for children.
Asked if she had a target for reducing child poverty Paula Bennett instead reeled off initiative after initiative that supposedly did good things for children, all the while missing the nub of the problem:
If these initiatives are failing to make a difference to the grinding reality of poverty for children; the kind of poverty that means some kids are three times as likely to end up in hospital than others, then what really is the point?
Which is precisely what the Children’s Commissioner was trying to show with his Child Poverty Monitor; if the Government wants to know whether its decisions are working to reduce child poverty, it first needs to measure it. Then it will be accountable for what those measurements show.
The Public Health Advisory Committee recommended the Government set targets for reducing child poverty as far back as 2009, and suggested that the Health Minister should explicitly name child health as his number one priority.
Papers released to me under the OIA show that health officials agreed, and advised the minister that a child poverty measurement would have a significant impact on child health, but the recommendation went nowhere.
Officials also agreed that the recommendation to elevate child health to an explicitly named priority would improve the health of children but, they noted, to do so would, “compete with existing Government priorities”.
Now more than ever it is time for reducing child poverty to be the Government’s main priority, and for children’s health to be the Health Ministry’s top priority.
Reducing Child Poverty and improving child health is an investment in New Zealand’s future, it is not a cost.