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Health Issues Highlighted in Child Poverty Monitor

University of Otago
NZ Child and Youth Epidemiology Service
Child Poverty Monitor

Tuesday December 2014

Health Issues Highlighted in Child Poverty Monitor


Although the just released second annual Child Poverty Monitor has revealed a small decrease in the number of New Zealand children living in income poverty, researchers involved in its preparation say there is still much to address in terms of health impacts.

Dr Jean Simpson, the Director of the University of Otago based NZ Child & Youth Epidemiology Service, which prepared the Technical Report for the Child Poverty Monitor, says while the reduction from 27% to 24% of children in households in income poverty is in the right direction, New Zealand still has one in four of its children aged 0—17 years living in income poverty.

"There is plenty of research that shows that living in poverty can be bad for children’s health. We know that poor health can affect a child’s ability educationally and socially, and there are also long term health consequences that will have implications for the Health budget." Dr Simpson says it is also good to see figures such as infant mortality continuing to fall, but that only gives part of the picture.

"Mortality rates are much higher for those living in more deprived areas than those in the least deprived areas of New Zealand. Babies in families living in the most deprived communities are almost five times more likely to die in their first year of life from Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) than those living in wealthier areas."

Rates for deaths from medical conditions with a social gradient were more than three times higher for Māori and over four times higher for Pacific than they are for European children.

Dr Simpson says the average annual rate of hospitalisations for infectious and respiratory illnesses, based on the last five years, has stayed much the same, but it was pleasing to see a decrease in the last year.

"It is too early to know if we are doing better than before. We will need to maintain that reduction in the rates to be confident that there is a real difference."

Meanwhile, the rate of hospital admissions for assault, neglect or maltreatment have continued to decline over 2000 to 2013. The number of deaths from such events has stayed the same, at an average of eight a year. The mortality rates were higher though for babies under one year, and children aged over 11 years.

"Establishing a set of indicators that can be monitored over time tells us what is actually happening, rather than what we think is happening. It’s easier to see the size of the problem and then, over time, to see the impact changes in policy and practice are having on children's lives," Dr Simpson says.

"I am still not sure that the real impact on a child’s health and wellbeing from living in poverty is fully recognised. Over 40,000 hospital admissions for conditions that have a social gradient means a lot of children each year are really sick. And children living in the most deprived areas are more likely that those from wealthy areas to be admitted for these conditions and injuries."

Over 80% of these admissions are for children with respiratory diseases, infections and other preventable illnesses, with under-fives the most commonly admitted.

Paediatrician Professor Innes Asher, of the Steering Group of the NZ Child and Youth Epidemiology Service says “These figures reflect what front-line health professionals who treat children see every day – the paediatricians, general practitioners, nurses and community health workers. The proportion of New Zealand children who are sick with preventable diseases related to poverty remains very high, and should be a concern for all New Zealanders”."

The data provided in the Technical Report for the Child Poverty Monitor are from governmental sources that are available to the public.

The Child Poverty Monitor is a collaboration between the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, the University of Otago’s NZ Child and Youth Epidemiology Service (NZCYES), and the JR McKenzie Trust. It has two parts: the Child Poverty Monitor itself, which puts a spotlight on four measures of child poverty in New Zealand; and the more detailed Technical Report, which also includes child health indicators related to poverty, as previously reported in the Children’s Social Health Monitor.

Further details on the key findings from the Technical Report are appended below.

Key messages

- There is a significant child poverty problem in New Zealand: 1 in 4 Kiwi kids grow up in poverty, 1 in 10 are in severe poverty and many are in poverty for much of their childhood.

- 17 percent of Kiwi kids have to go without basic essentials like healthy homes, fresh fruit and vegetables and adequate clothes.

- Child poverty has consequences for everyone; and has significant social and economic costs for New Zealand.

- The Child Poverty Monitor measures poverty by income, material hardship, severity and persistence.

- The Monitor aims to provide a benchmark to chart progress in reducing child poverty in New Zealand

- Monitoring child poverty was a recommendation by the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty in December 2012.

- The Partnership of JR McKenzie Trust, the Children’s Commissioner and Otago University have the collective skills and resources to effectively monitor child poverty and share this information in a way all New Zealanders can understand.

Child poverty, health and wellbeing

1. Evidence shows that poverty has negative impacts on the individual child. It reduces opportunities, stifles educational achievement, reduces lifetime incomes, creates life-long health issues and can have a negative effect on brain development.

2. Too many children in New Zealand experience poverty. About 24% of children – 260,000 children - are in families without enough money to pay bills and purchase everyday essentials. That’s more than the combined population of Palmerston North, Nelson and Dunedin.

3. There has been a slight drop in income poverty for children this year – down from 285,000 to 260,000 children. It is difficult to pinpoint why this is or whether this trend will continue but over time we hope to see this continue to track downwards.

4. About 17% of kiwi children regularly go without things most New Zealanders consider essential, like fruit and veges and good shoes.

5. About one in ten are in severe poverty; that is, they are going without the things they need and their low family income means they don’t have any opportunity of changing this.

6. For many of the children living in poverty, this is a long-term problem and has a severe impact on the adults they grow up to be; 3 in 5 of the children in poverty will likely remain in poverty most of their childhood years. This means poor diets, limited education, poor health.

7. There are over 40,000 hospitalisations each year of children aged 0 – 14 years old for conditions related to a social gradient. Children in more deprived communities are three times more likely to be hospitalised with preventable illnesses.

8. Children from deprived communities are almost five times more likely to die in their first year of life from a poverty-related illness

9. 43 % of children living in the poorest areas of New Zealand live in a crowded home. Of all children, 47% of Pasifika children, 25% of Maori children and 21% of Asian/Indian children live in crowded homes. 5% of European children live in crowded homes.

10. Overcrowding can cause serious health problems. In New Zealand it has been linked to meningococcal disease and rheumatic fever. It can also lead to lifelong issues in adulthood.

11. Child poverty has not always been this bad – the child poverty rate in the New Zealand many of us grew up in 30 years ago was 14%, compared to current levels of 24%.

12. Children fare much worse than all other age groups, both looking at income poverty and material hardship, as they are more vulnerable, exposed and dependent on caregivers to provide basic essentials.


ENDS

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