Editorial: the plight of young NZers

Last month we learned that one in five children grows up in a household for which the only income is a benefit.

There is a sign on the motorway just north of Paraparaumu that says ‘Abortion stops a beating heart’. The trouble is that, if the owner of the beating heart survives to birth in this country, they may be in for a lifelong struggle.

Last month we learned that one in five children grows up in a household for which the only income is a benefit. On November 25 the Dominion Post reported ‘The number of children living with beneficiaries is up 15,000 in the past year to 226,000 in April 2009’.

At the same time a TVNZ ‘Closeup’ documentary highlighted the fact that children’s healthcare is free only 9am to 5pm. After hours, children are charged the same as everyone else. Some interviewed for the programme said they would often wait until the child was sick enough to take to the hospital where treatment is free. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says New Zealand is seeing growing levels of preventable child illness not being seen these days in many other OECD countries.

CPAG’s Anne Else said those levels of illness are ‘clearly linked to poverty and to the wide disparity in incomes and standards of living.
‘It is not just a question of sick kids. The damage done in childhood stays with the children right through their lives, impeding their earning capacity and wellbeing.’
She says the major group of people in poverty are children themselves.

A 2008 Ministry of Social Development report shows that prices of core family items have risen faster than both inflation and average wages. These include housing, energy and transport. Yet the housing supplement has not risen since 2005.

A Dominion Post article quotes the MSD’s 2009 Household Incomes Report: ‘child poverty rates rose from 2007 to 2008 after falls from 2001 to 2007 … because housing costs rose sharply from 2007 to 2008, especially for low-income households’ (Nov 27, 09). So children were worse off even before the recession.
Says Anne Else, ‘It’s such a short-sighted, stupid thing for the country to do in terms of its future. We are going to need all those children as workers to be doing the best they can to support, for example, an ageing population so this is a really serious issue that successive governments have not done nearly enough to deal with.’
CPAG is calling for a return to the universal family benefit or, at least, a separation between the benefit and work incentives.

Anne Else says the Working for Families supplement did lift a lot of working families out of poverty but it didn’t help the children of beneficiaries. It combined a form of child benefit that’s paid to the caregiver with a work incentive. ‘Now when families lose their job they lose their 60 percent tax credit so they’re poorer than ever.’
So while we’re rightly concerned with the beating heart of the unborn, we might do well to also consider how the beating of those hearts might be inhibited by a range of socio-economic factors after birth.