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Policy Impact on Child Health Must Be Considered

Impact of Government Policies on Child Health Must Be Considered, Says PHA

Wednesday 15 February 2006


The health of children must not suffer because of Government policies, the Public Health Association (PHA) told Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee (FEC) today. The FEC is hearing submissions on the Budget Policy Statement – the document in which the Government outlines the general direction of the May/June budget.

PHA spokesperson Dr Helen Bichan said that health was largely determined by decisions made in sectors other than those of traditional health services.

“While the PHA supports the overarching policy goals that are described in the Budget Policy Statement 2006, we are concerned that the wider impacts of some policies are not being rigorously assessed.”

She said the Government’s Working for Families package was an example of one such policy. The package, while a good start, fell short of helping the most vulnerable children, often those whose caregivers were on benefits. These caregivers generally had a lower income than people in paid employment, and were less able to afford essentials like healthy food and adequate housing. This in turn affected the current and future health of their children.

Dr Bichan urged Government to fully assess the health impacts of various policies, saying that health impact assessment tools were available to policy-makers. By considering the impact of a policy on the health of children and families, the Government could be alerted to any unintended negative consequences of that policy, such as some groups slipping further into poverty, and experiencing poorer health.

She said that, for example, there were health impacts for families who could not afford adequate supplies of fruit and vegetables.

“Lack of nutritious food is strongly related to poor health. We know that up to one-fifth of New Zealand families with school-age children have concerns that there will not be enough food in the house for the family to eat. Maori families are overwhelmingly over-represented in these figures, as are Pacific families.”

Dr Bichan said that inadequate and overcrowded accommodation was also associated with poor health, and linked to rises in infectious diseases such as preventable lung and skin infections and gastroenteritis.

“Families on lower incomes accept poorer quality dwellings, are tempted to crowd too many people into a house, and spend money needed for other essentials on housing.”

She said the Government must evaluate its housing, education, welfare, employment, transport, taxation and health policies carefully to ensure they were improving, not worsening, the health and well being of New Zealanders.

ENDS

The Public Health Association of New Zealand is a non-party political voluntary association, which provides a major forum for the exchange of information and stimulation of debate about the health of the public in New Zealand.

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