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Q+A: Shane Taurima interviews Deborah Morris-Travers

Sunday 26 August, 2012
Q+A: Shane Taurima interviews Deborah Morris-Travers
Q+A understands Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group’s report will urge:
•          Landlords Warrant of Fitness
•          Universal Child Benefit
•          More meals in schools
Expert says she “expects” strong recommendations around housing, “including a WOF that regulates the quality of housing.”
Meals in Schools an “obvious thing to be doing” to help children learn and deal with social environment.
Morris-Travers backs universal child benefit and hopes it’s in EAG report: payments need to be universal and aimed at very young children.
Netherlands study shows that focus on getting the poorest into early childhood education works.
Says Netherlands spends more on poor children, ensuring they are healthy and educated. That means greater productivity and a stronger economy.
Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1.
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Q + A – August 26, 2012
Interviewed by SHANE TAURIMA
SHANE                                 Deborah, good morning to you. Thank you for joining us.
                                               Kia ora, Shane.
SHANE                                 Let’s start with how big a problem do we actually have?
MS MORRIS-TRAVERS    It’s a significant problem. We have just over a fifth of New Zealand children currently living in poverty, and more importantly, when you look at what's happening for Pasifika and Maori children, we have 40% of Pasifika children and 27% of Maori children in poverty. So that inequality is clearly unjust, but also it’s rapidly becoming unsustainable. Already we spend $6 billion picking up the pieces of child poverty. And because those populations – Maori and Pasifika – have more children and have their children younger, that $6 billion is rapidly going to balloon out of control. Poverty in New Zealand constitutes malnutrition; it means living in really cold, damp housing that makes children very sick; and it also means that very often these children are not participating early childhood education, so their education outcomes are worse than other children.
SHANE                                 So you’ve been looking at the Netherlands for solutions. What's one recommendation from that study that the government could pick up today and make a real difference to the problem you’ve just described?
MS MORRIS-TRAVERS    Well, there are a number of excellent recommendations, but I guess what I would say is that they do a very good job at prioritising disadvantaged populations to be in early childhood education, and they’re also very good at ensuring that childcare is in place that enables parents to be able to work. They invest in their population so that their population is healthy and educated and, in turn, that means that they have a higher rate of productivity and a much stronger economy than New Zealand has.
SHANE                                 There is another big report due out next week, and we understand there's a recommendation for a warrant of fitness for rental properties. Is that a good idea?
MS MORRIS-TRAVERS    Yeah, I really hope there’ll be some good, practical recommendations coming out of the Expert Advisory Group on Poverty, and I would expect there to be some very strong recommendations around housing, including a warrant of fitness that regulates the quality of housing, and of course we also need to improve the affordability of housing. I think there are other practical and immediate things that we could be doing for children in poverty too - for example, providing meals in schools. And in the longer term, I think we need to have systems change that enables us to provide more universal support to children, perhaps through something like a child benefit. We need both short-term—
SHANE                                 Which we also understand will be part of next week’s report.
MS MORRIS-TRAVERS    I’d be really pleased if it was in there, because, again, it’s something that happens in the Netherlands and in many other countries, and our current financial support for families is not as generous and as universal as it needs to be. We need to recognise the particular needs of families who have got children in them, and especially those families who have got very young children, because in the first 1000 days of life, the most important physical, mental and emotional development happens for children. Those children need to be in warm houses and have their nutritional and educational needs met.
SHANE                                 Can I just ask you about another recommendation we understand to be in the report, and that is around meals in schools? Is that something else that you would support?
MS MORRIS-TRAVERS    Yeah, well, I think that it’s quite an obvious thing that we can be doing to ensure that children are fed and therefore able to pay attention to their school environment and be sociable in the school environment too. There are studies coming from the Child Poverty Action Group that clearly show that where children arrive at school hungry, they are much less able to deal with the challenge of the school environment. So I think that it would be a very simple and wise investment to ensure that children are adequately fed in school.
SHANE                                 Deborah, I’m sorry to cut you off, but very very quickly, what are the chances of these solutions being picked up in your opinion?
MS MORRIS-TRAVERS    Well, I would really encourage all political parties to maintain an open mind to the recommendations that come from the Experts Advisory Group. Over the next few weeks, there’ll be an opportunity for the public and social providers to comment on those recommendations, and I would urge all political parties to develop a consensus around child poverty. This is an issue of national significance, and we must address it.
SHANE                                 Deborah Morris-Travers, thank you very much for joining us this morning.


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