Fight against child poverty
Date: Wednesday 2 October 2013
Fight against child poverty
Te Puna Oranga general manager Ditre Tamatea writes the following article about the fight against child poverty.
Te Puna Oranga is Waikato District Health Board’s (DHB’s) Maori Health service and has been operating within the Waikato region for 10 years. Within this time, it has built a reputation as one of the leading specialists in developing targeted strategies and initiatives to contribute to Maori health gain. Te Puna Oranga – led by general manager Ditre Tamatea, serves one of the largest Maori populations (82,000) in the country and covers a widespread and largely rural geographical area. While our unit’s primary intent is very focused on Maori health gain, as a secondary intent we seek to support all vulnerable groups whom have a need; as such, many of Te Puna Oranga’s projects don’t just benefit Maori but other groups as well. Inequalities are unjust no matter where they may be found, our motivation is based upon a desire to address health inequalities for Maori and other disadvantaged groups.
In my work over successive years in Maori health, I have come across many technical definitions of what constitutes poverty. Some say a family is poor if they live on 60 per cent or less of the mean income. However, to me what poverty really means is this. You are unlikely to own your own home. The house you live in is likely to be cold and damp. You probably will live in over-crowded conditions to try to cut the cost of rent and spiralling household bills. Your home will be what the rest of the population would consider substandard with no insulation, windows cracked or missing, a leaking roof and rotten floorboards. You will watch your power usage like a hawk and chances are you will go hungry and so will your kids on a regular basis - particularly two days out from pay day. You and your kids will more likely live in a neighbourhood whereby you are probably a victim of crime and subject to the constant stress of struggling to survive. In such conditions, you will struggle to think long term as you try to survive day to day. You will be a part of society that generates political debate - much of which is negative. You will be viewed by some as a burden on society, and this will be especially so if you draw a benefit. People will forget that just because you are poor doesn’t mean you are not a good parent. You may well be a victim of stereotypes, classism and discrimination. Your children are likely to sense that your house is a house of “pressure” as adults talk, and yes, even argue, about how they are going to survive and they will be keenly aware that the scarcity of food is an issue.
This insight will be developed in a country, which is famous for exporting quality farm produce and aquaculture as the “food basket to the world”. As they grow up your kids will become well aware of the gap between the “haves and the have nots."Your children are less likely to share in the same opportunities that those of more wealthy families do, and statistically they are not likely to enjoy the same trajectory through life. This is because material poverty is directly linked to poverty of opportunity. The playing ground is not equal. Statistically you are more likely to be sick than others and less likely to be able to access health services, in the end chances are that you will die over 10 years earlier than the rest of the population. Your children will also be susceptible to higher rates of sickness and more likely to get third world diseases in a country, which is “developed”. Your greatest fear will be that your children will repeat the cycle. You will want nothing more than a better way of life for your children, but you may not know how to get there. Some people will not know that you exist; others will deny that you exist, believing that poverty does not exist in Aotearoa/ New Zealand. You will be the invisible poor, and your invisibility will be magnified if you are a child.
All too often it is children whom carry the brunt of poverty in this country and it is not right, it is not fair, it is not just, and we adults need to do something about it. All of us. It’s about a shared responsibility, responsibility of the state, responsibility of the community, the Iwi, the family/ whanau and the individual. All of us hold some form of responsibility, but no matter where you sit in this debate one thing’s for sure: children aren’t responsible for their circumstances, and they most certainly are not responsible for being hungry.
In 2013 Te Puna Oranga launched Project 270; a project which seeks to combat child/whanau poverty across the greater Waikato area. The initiative is called Project 270 as over 270 thousand children in Aotearoa /New Zealand live below the poverty line. It was our way of drawing attention to this issue. Many of the children whom live in poverty are Maori or Pacific, but poverty covers a wide range of peoples. One in six children of Pakeha descent also lives below the poverty line in this country. My thoughts are let’s collectively do something to make a difference for as many of these kids that we can.
Project 270 consists of three key components. Free home insulation both in ceiling and in the floor to make homes warmer and drier for high needs families/whanau. To date we have facilitated the free insulation of 415 homes for high needs families and we know that this has direct health benefits for the occupants of these homes. The feedback from those families that have had their homes insulated has been very uplifting, but we know many more homes need to be done. We are now taking a very targeted approach to home insulation by contacting the families of children whom have been admitted to hospital-based service several times over the last 12 months for respiratory problems. Also we are targeting households were children have contracted Rheumatic Fever going back as far as 2009 on our records to see if they fit the criteria to have free insulation put into their homes.
Secondly we will work to make sure that schools in low income areas are receiving health services whether they be GP’s or nursing based services, as this is where the greatest child health needs are likely to be.
And finally, Project 270 seeks to put food or kai in schools (KIS) by partnering with the KidsCan Food in Schools Programme. To date we have secured funding to enable KidsCan to extend its Food in Schools Programme to 23 decile one and two primary schools across the greater Waikato. We will continue to seek funding and corporate sponsorship to further enable the expansion of the Food in Schools initiative in conjunction with KidsCan within the Waikato. We are the first DHB service in the country to partner with KidsCan to support the food in schools programme.
It’s both sad and somewhat bizarre that in New Zealand a country which exports food as the food basket to the world, families cant afford to provide regular food for their children. Certainly many of these children come from families whom are welfare dependent, however increasingly many families whom work but are on a low income would fall into the category of being below the poverty line. These families are the new working poor.
Our team finds the work of KidsCan CEO Julie Chapman and her team inspirational. It’s an approach that’s making a practical difference for tamariki whom are most in need. It’s an approach we are keen to support.
If you are eager to support Project 270 and our ‘war on child poverty” please donate to the Waikato Hospitals Waikato Health Trust, specify that you want to donate to the child poverty account, and the proceeds will go to feed hungry Kiwi kids that live right here in the Waikato.