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Child poverty must be eliminated - speech notes

Child poverty must be eliminated - speech notes

Speech notes for launch of "Our Children: The Priority for Policy" Hon Jim Anderton, 18 March 2003, Beehive Theatrette.

Welcome to everyone to this launch of the Child Poverty Action Group's document "Our Children: The Priority for Policy".

I'd like to take a moment before I begin to acknowledge the children of Iraq. They, in particular, are in my thoughts today.

It is good to see the broad range of people here, all concerned about child poverty, including: - Child Poverty Action Group, - international NGOs like UNICEF and Save the Children, - nationwide and local NGOs like Barnardos and local Wellington groups - parliamentary representatives, the Ministry of Social Development, the Department of Child Youth and Family and the Ministry of Health. - other concerned New Zealanders

I am pleased to be hosting this launch. Our children should be a priority for all of us.

Congratulations to the Child Poverty Action Group on it's work in putting together this well argued, well researched action plan to improve the well-being of our children.

Such work shows how important it is for government to have an open, constructive dialogue with NGOs, and I'm happy to be part of a government, which does.

You will, of course, hope that the Labour Progressive coalition government will act on your recommendations.

In fairness, coalition government is making progress in improving the wellbeing of our children. Admittedly, it is a step by step process in the right direction: Continuing increases in jobs, reducing unemployment and increased minimum wages means more money for families and hope for young people leaving the education system. Our income related rents policy has helped those in state houses, in fact over 50,000 families. New Public Health Organisations have reduced the costs of going to the doctor for people in low income areas, and free health care for under 18 year olds and we've spent $200 million on the meningitis vaccine campaign. Free Doctors visits are on the way for all those under 18, to be followed by free GP visits for the elderly. We now have Paid Parental leave to assist people in caring for new babies The early childhood education strategy is in place and is already improving access to good quality early education services for children. We have significant youth suicide prevention and drug and alcohol strategies.

While we are making progress, it is no secret that we must do more to meet housing, health and education needs and reduce poverty traps, especially because children are the biggest losers if we don't do so.

One of the good things about coalition governments is that I can advocate for progressive policies around a receptive cabinet table. Constructive coalition government has shown that many gains can be made. The Progressives have pushed for free health for under 18 year olds, more and better state housing and inflation adjustments for family support.

Effective coalition government means working constructively in Cabinet Committees with your colleagues to make a strong case for policy improvements.

My key role in government, of course, is economic development. In my view, the aim of economic development is to improve social wellbeing as well as economic wellbeing, and especially to improve the present and future lives of New Zealand's children.

No nation which has a third rate economy will have a first rate health or education system. Full employment ultimately means we have better education and healthcare, better housing, greater ability to ensure that our children get the best start they can possibly have in life.

It is clear to me, and it is clear in 'Our Children: the Priority for Policy', that the best way to invest in our future is to invest in our children's wellbeing.

There is no doubt that our task is huge. The policies of the 1980s and 1990s involved making structural changes to our economic and social support systems.

Some of those policies and the way they were implemented increased inequality of incomes, poorer health, even lower life expectancies and lower educational achievement for many of our most vulnerable citizens.

As Leader of the Progressives, I will advocate for a good number of the recommendations in this document at the cabinet table because many of them, like building more state houses and increasing family support payments are already Progressive policy.

It may sound a bit mercenary, but looking after our children is a very good financial investment for the future. Spending $100 helping a child access healthcare today will save thousands of dollars in 10, 20 and 30 years time by allowing them to reach their full potential from an early age.

Ignoring the needs of children incurs future costs not only through unemployment, but through poor health, mental health problems, low educational achievement and instigating a cycle of poverty, which is hard to break.

Children must be a priority for all New Zealanders, not just the government if we are to make the most of our future as a modern enlightened nation. The social wellbeing of our children inevitably affects the well being of us all.

Child poverty must be eliminated. I give you my commitment to work towards that goal with urgency.

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