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Otago Students Take On Child Poverty

Otago Students Take On Child Poverty

A group of University of Otago students has banded together this year to try and address some of the issues of child poverty and encourage discussions in the public and political arenas.

The group is called Choose Kids and the biggest factor they’ve identified in the cause of poverty is income and benefit inadequacy, which has families with two full-time minimum-wage earners coming up over $100 short each week, when paying for lowest-quality rent, power, household running costs, clothes, food, heating, medical bills and transport.

Choose Kids’ spokesperson Briar Hunter says “It’s even worse for benefit recipients and solo parents. The next biggest determinants are poorly insulated, leaky, overcrowded homes, and childhood hunger and poor nutrition. If these issues are dealt with they will have direct flow on effects on childhood health.”

This week, in support of the Mana’s Party’s ‘Feed the Kids’ Bill, Choose Kids have sent in 1000 post-card sized letters to the Prime Minister; signed by students, teachers, psychologists, researchers and parents alike. They have also written dozens of letters to every member of the National Party and the Ministers of Health, Education, and Social Development. The group has also posted their promotional video and online petition in support of the Bill on their Facebook page.

“The Feed the Kids Bill aims to get nutritious breakfasts and lunches in decile 1 and 2 schools, to allow kids the opportunity to make the most of their education; helping to break the poverty cycle for the next generation. The provision of healthy foods will have immediate impacts on health, and will enhance social skills and discourage hungry children being ostracized by peers and having feelings of low self-esteem and embarrassment,” Briar says.

Briar continues: “One-in five-New Zealand Kids live in poverty, a statistic that rates us very poorly in comparison to other OECD countries. Our lower class carries the burden of poor mental health and cognitive development, high infant mortality and high hospital admissions.

“The conditions we see here in New Zealand—recurrent skin and chest infections and rheumatic fever— are the same conditions that plagued the poor in Apartheid South Africa, and have been eradicated from many parts of the western world.

“We have over 83,000 children attending school hungry each day; a factor linked to poor academic performance and achievement. This in turn is associated with feelings of disempowerment, reduced future employment opportunities and individuals becoming trapped in low wage employment or benefit dependency later in life.

“Poverty in New Zealand is often described as ‘invisible poverty’ because it exists in clusters normally removed from the middle class’ suburbia. We also do not have high rates of homeless people on the streets and this enhances our denial of the problem. Nobody sees the 15 people living inside a 4 bedroom houses unless you go inside and look.”

Briar says everyone has a part to play ridding child poverty from New Zealand, whether it’s by sending a letter to parliament to tell them it’s worth addressing, or volunteering for any of the amazing organisations in our community who are already doing practical work on the ground.

“Our children are the future of the country and they are powerless to change their current situation. It is up to us to make change happen for them,” Briar concludes.


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