Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

Children Of The Poor: Nothing Matters More

Anne Else's Letter from Elsewhere

Children Of The Poor: Nothing Matters More

So Don Brash has repeated himself, and another married mother has turned into a sole parent - though I doubt that Je Lan will be off to Work and Income any time soon. I’ve been thinking about sole parents because, in a roundabout way, they featured prominently in the most important news of the week.

The Paediatrics Society report, Monitoring the Health of New Zealand Children and Young People – Indicator Handbook (read it on www.paediatrics.co.nz) came out on 26 November. It makes it crystal clear that being at the bottom of the heap for health is very closely linked with being at the bottom of the heap for family income.

And as a recent Ministry of Social Development report confirmed (Household incomes in New Zealand: trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2004, on http://www.msd.govt.nz/work-areas/social-research/household-incomes.html) no one is more likely to be down there than the children of sole parents.

The Indicator Handbook highlights these families too:

“In spite of improved economic performance in the 2000s, between 2000 and 2004 the proportion of children in severe or significant hardship rose from 18% to 26%...Poverty remains highest among sole parents, dependent on benefits, and their children who number more than 200,000.” Overall, it says, 43.3% of children in sole parent families and 14.6% of children in two parent families lived below the poverty line in 2003-2004.”

The core benefit for a sole parent with two children “went from 92% percent of the average wage in 1986 to just 65% in 1991. These benefit cuts have had significant impact on children.” But since then things have got even worse: “Not linking benefits to wage levels also meant the core benefit / wage relation was eroded even further, to 62% by 1999, and then to 58% in 2004.”

So successive governments have made sure that the benefit which was originally brought in to keep sole parents’ children out of poverty now puts them at very high risk of being in poverty. Only 7.9% of children living in the most affluent areas had a sole parent, compared with 46.2% of children living in the most deprived areas.

What about the government’s flagship anti-child-poverty programme, “Working for Families”? As the Child Poverty Action Group have repeatedly pointed out, and are currently taking a legal case to prove, it discriminates against the poorest children, driving their families further into hardship. (See exactly why on
http://www.cpag.org.nz/campaigns/Child_Tax_Credit_IWP.html)

Why does any of this matter, and why should anyone else care? From start to finish, the Indicator Handbook shows exactly why.

As we’ve known for two centuries, poor children have poor health. Parts of the report read like something out of Dickens.

“The associations between substandard housing and poor health have been known for several centuries, with reports from as early as the 1830s attributing high rates of infectious disease to overcrowded, damp, and poorly ventilated housing. In New Zealand, crowding is strongly correlated with meningococcal disease, while overseas reports also demonstrate correlations with a number of infectious diseases and mental health issues.”

In 2001, 42.5% of children in the most deprived areas lived in crowded households, compared with just 2.7% of children in the most affluent areas. By 2006 - after five supposedly prosperous years – fewer children in the most affluent areas (2.3%) lived in crowded households. But more children in the most deprived areas – 43.6% - lived in crowded households.

Crowding may mean more than sharing a bedroom. In 40% of those families defined as living in severe hardship, children had to share a bed.

With a deadly inevitably, Dickensian health statistics follow. The formal language hides the sheer misery behind them. Skin infections, for example:

“In New Zealand during 1990-2006, there were large increases in the number of children and young people admitted to hospital with serious bacterial infections. In absolute terms, the majority of these increases were attributable to the large rise in admissions for serious skin infections. Admissions for all other serious bacterial infections either remained static or increased, with the exception of meningococcal disease and meningitis, which both exhibited a downward trend during the early-mid 2000s…During 2002-2006, the most common reason for admission was skin infection, accounting for 78.8% of admissions in this category.”

And tuberculosis:

“…a clear resurgence in TB in children was evident during 1992-2001…In New Zealand during the late 1990s-early 2000s, hospital admissions for TB gradually increased, although data for 2004-2006 suggest that admission rates may be beginning to taper off…TB admissions were highest amongst young people in their late teens and early twenties, those living in the most deprived areas, females and those of non-European ethnic origin.”

And rheumatic fever (the report helpfully spells it out: “usually occurs in school-age children and may affect the brain, heart, joints, skin or subcutaneous tissue…Recurrent episodes…may result in the development of rheumatic heart disease…”):

“While New Zealand’s rheumatic fever rates have declined significantly during the past 30 years, they still remain higher than those of many other developed countries. Risk factors include age (school age children), ethnicity (Pacific>> Māori>> European), socioeconomic disadvantage and overcrowding…during the past 10 years, hospital admissions due to acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease have remained relatively static.”

After all that, here’s the killer fact:

Overall, during 2006, a total of 23,541 babies (39.1% of all births) were born into the most deprived areas.

So if nothing changes, almost 4 out of every 10 new-born children will be at high risk of poor health from day one. And this is after a really good run of around seven or eight years of prosperity, plus heavily increased spending on health care.

The report does not, of course, have the answers. But it does give a few clues.

For a start, we need to find out exactly what’s happening to children’s health – and keep on finding out. We are not doing this now. The report’s authors have done the best they could with the information available. But “adequate data sources were available for only a fraction of the issues that those working in the health sector considered important to child and youth health.”

Still, what we do know is bad enough: “the information currently available is of sufficient quality to suggest that urgent measures are necessary if we are to reduce the large disparities in health outcomes experienced by New Zealand’s children and young people.”

The report makes it very clear that the health of children depends on far more than individual parents and the health system.

“The health and well being of our children and young people reflects the outcomes of very complex ecological interactions with their environment.”

This is why “coordinated action will be required at all levels, from those responsible for higher level Government policies, through to those working with children and young people on a day to day basis.”

Nothing matters more. The reason should be obvious:

“Outcomes for the current generation of children and young people will determine the future success or failure of the community and society as a whole.”

Either we get this right – or at least a whole lot better – or we’re stuffed.

*************

- Anne Else is a Wellington writer and social commentator. Her occasional column will typically appear on a Monday. You can subscribe to receive Letter From Elsewhere by email when it appears via the Free My Scoop News-By-Email Service

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 


Julian Assange: A Thousand Days In Belmarsh
Julian Assange has now been in the maximum-security facilities of Belmarsh prison for over 1,000 days. On the occasion of his 1,000th day of imprisonment, campaigners, supporters and kindred spirits gathered to show their support, indignation and solidarity at this political detention most foul... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: The Mauling Of Novak Djokovic
Rarely can the treatment of a grand sporting figure by officialdom have caused such consternation. Novak Djokovic, the tennis World Number One, has always had a tendency to get under skin and constitution, creating a large following of admirers and detractors. But his current treatment by Australian authorities, and his subsequent detention as an unlawful arrival despite being granted a visa to participate in the Australian Open, had the hallmarks of oppression and incompetent vulgarity... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Voices Of Concern: Aussies For Assange’s Return

With Julian Assange now fighting the next stage of efforts to extradite him to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 of which are based on the brutal, archaic Espionage Act, some Australian politicians have found their voice. It might be said that a few have even found their conscience... More>>



Forbidden Parties: Boris Johnson’s Law On Illegal Covid Gatherings

It was meant to be time to reflect. The eager arms of a new pandemic were enfolding a society with asphyxiating, lethal effect. Public health authorities advocated various measures: social distancing, limited contact between family and friends, limited mobility. No grand booze-ups. No large parties. No bonking, except within dispensations of intimacy and various “bubble” arrangements. Certainly, no orgies... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Question Time Is Anything But
The focus placed on the first couple of Question Time exchanges between the new leader of the National Party and the Prime Minister will have seemed excessive to many but the most seasoned Parliamentary observers. Most people, especially those outside the Wellington beltway, imagine Question Time is exactly what it sounds... More>>



Gasbagging In Glasgow: COP26 And Phasing Down Coal

Words can provide sharp traps, fettering language and caging definitions. They can also speak to freedom of action and permissiveness. At COP26, that permissiveness was all the more present in the haggling ahead of what would become the Glasgow Climate Pact... More>>