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Reducing child poverty key to improving NZs health

Reducing child poverty key to improving the health of New Zealanders

In the light of a new public health report, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) today urged the government to take immediate steps to eliminate child poverty as the key to improving the health and well-being of New Zealanders.

CPAG spokesperson Dr. Nikki Turner says the report, released today, hammers home yet again the clear links between poverty and poor health. “It is high time the Government acted to reduce the poverty experienced by one in three children. The effect of poverty on our children’s health is evident in the ever-increasing pressures faced by health services.”

In the report to the Minister of Health, the Public Health Advisory Committee (PHAC) recommends that Government adopts a goal of ensuring all New Zealanders have the same chance of good health and long life regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic position.

Dr. Turner says the Government must not allow funding for children to be tied to parental employment status. “Policy initiatives for families in the last Budget have done next to nothing for the poorest children in households reliant on benefits - and yet these are the very children most affected by ill health and its consequences. Why are we making the children most in need suffer, based on the employment status of their parents?

“Family income matters. The experience of child poverty sets the stage for poor health throughout life, affecting a child’s whole future. As this report states, the risk of death for children in low income households is about twice that for children in high income households.”

The Child Poverty Action Group endorses the 7 recommendations in the report, including the development of an official NZ measure of child poverty, with measurable objectives for the reduction of poverty, by July 2005.

As well, CPAG urges the Government to give immediate attention to the following:

Increasing support to the primary health care strategy to ensure free health services for all children under 18 years – including all pharmaceutical costs, disability costs and primary health care visits.

Increasing investment in public health infrastructure and service delivery from the current totally inadequate miniscule percentage (approx. 2%) of overall health spend.

Increasing the focus and scope of preventive programmes targeting families and children (including broadening and supporting Strengthening Families initiatives). We need to ensure wider access to these services - particularly those providing intensive support for disadvantaged families, such as Family Start programmes.

“We treat the children and they return. I have seen no improvement over that time. We are stuck in a cycle that we cannot break out of. No child should have to go to hospital repeatedly with recurrent skin infections or pneumonia. It is very demoralising in general practice when we can see no improvement, only stories of overloaded hospitals.”

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