Calling for a long-term commitment to reducing child poverty

Plunket is proud to be one of over thirty organisations calling for a long-term and non-partisan focus on reducing child poverty, keeping children’s health and wellbeing at the heart of this country’s journey forward. 

Collectively, we believe the time is right for a strong and enduring response to reducing child poverty.

This announcement supports Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft’s call for legislation that affirms a set of appropriate measures of child poverty and commits each government to set and reach targets for poverty reductions, which will have the effect of improving children’s wellbeing.

So why is it so important for a long-term commitment to reducing child poverty?

Child poverty is a critical issue for our country. It is a systemic and life-threatening issue that can be seen in homes in every corner of our country.

At Plunket we work with families across Aotearoa and we see first-hand the damage poverty does to families’ and children’s health. We know that many children who live in poverty aren’t able to get the best start in their first 1000 days of life, the most important time in their development.

Each year our nurses see 90 percent of families with new born babies and they tell me that they are seeing more and more people who are struggling to make ends meet. The results are heart-breaking - poor child health, stressed families and poorer outcomes for children – especially for our Māori and Pacific communities who bear the brunt of this burden on our children.

One Plunket nurse describes the overcrowding she sees in her area, just one symptom of poverty that families face today:

“I see a lot of overcrowding. I visited a family sharing a 3 bedroom home with 2 other families – there is one kitchen and one toilet. The family with their new baby had just been asked to leave because the new baby made too much noise.

There is another family renting a room for mum, dad and three children including a newborn baby. There is an increased SUDI risk as baby shares a bed with mum because there is no room for a bassinette or cot. The dad and two older children sleep on a mattress on the floor.

The sad thing is I think we have become acclimatized to families living in poverty and this is a new normal.”

Another nurse tells me that “poverty is everywhere”.

“Poverty is chaos – where it’s freezing, there’s not much furniture, nowhere for children to play, no food in the fridge.

Working as a Plunket Nurse I have learnt to never assume anything. Never assume that children brush their teeth twice a day, never assume they have three meals a day, never assume they have money for clothing. “

One of our Plunket Health Workers has described the cycle of poverty as “poverty of the mind”:

“People can’t see a way out of it or they just accept that this is their life and the hand that they have been dealt. I see families who don’t know anything other than living in poverty. People have resigned themselves to this way of life.”

These stories are heart-breaking, and far too common across New Zealand. It is time to move beyond hand-wringing and victim blaming.

To break the cycle of poverty we need to our leaders to commit to addressing this national problem beyond the three-yearly election cycle.

Reducing child poverty is fundamental to our nation’s future. It is the best investment that any government can make. We welcome this government’s commitment to invest more in children as a significant and positive step forward and join the call for appropriate measures of child poverty and challenging targets for improving children’s health and well-being.

We all have an obligation to level the playing field for our tamāriki in New Zealand. We need successive governments to invest in the health and wellbeing of children living in poverty in order to make the difference of a lifetime and create generational change. 

Media Coverage:

by Amanda Malu 27 November 2017

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