Investing in childhood well-being vital for the growth of the nation – economists

Margaret Connor4 October 2011 New Zealand is the lowest of the OECD countries in terms of investment in childhood well-being, according to new research commissioned by the Every Child Counts…

Margaret Connor
4 October 2011

New Zealand is the lowest of the OECD countries in terms of investment in childhood well-being, according to new research commissioned by the Every Child Counts group.

Economist David Grimmond presented the Infometrics report 1000 days to get it right for every child: the effectiveness of public investment in Aotearoa/New Zealand children, saying that this low investment had very poor outcomes.

In looking at other countries that invest more and have better outcomes, he discovered that the outcomes are not always a direct result of the investment. For example, The Netherlands invests less than Norway and Denmark but has similar positive outcomes. Therefore, Grimmond believes that further investigating the patterns of investment in children in The Netherlands could inform planning improvements for New Zealand children.

Grimmond presented his research to a packed audience in the Barnardos seminar room in central Wellington on September 8.

As well as being about the absence of disease, well-being takes account of social factors that influence how we live our daily lives. We now know that people living with chronic disease can experience high levels of well-being.

In highlighting the need to better understand the many risk factors in family life and its stresses where children are born into poverty, David Grimmond emphasised five points which are set out as a framework for action in the next 1,000 days (about the duration of one parliamentary session).

More investment in pre-school
The first and second points focused on increasing investment in the preschool period of children’s lives to boost the lot of vulnerable children.

Grimmond’s third point recommended investment across the lifecycle of children that takes account of a range of well-being outcomes. Fourthly, was the imperative to regularly collect and disseminate good internationally comparable New Zealand research on child well-being.

Lastly he called for ongoing experimentation of policies and programmes that are rigorously evaluated to find what is most effective in improving the well-being of children.

Ineffective programmes should be promptly replaced with programmes that are known to work. These could come from a variety of providers.

If these areas become the focus of investment in the next 1,000 days he believes that the investment will lead to greater improvements in the well-being of New Zealand’s children and their families.

Another report titled He Ara Hou: the Pathway forward by The University of Auckland and led by Associate Professor Manuka Henare focused on Pasifika children. More than half of the 200,000 children living in poverty in New Zealand belong to Māori and Pasifika families. Approximately one quarter of families in these two groups live on some form of benefit with the highest percentage on the domestic purposes benefit.

Hardship times four
Sole parent families experience four times the hardship of two parent families. Unemployment is also a major factor for these families and this has risen in the current economic climate. 

This situation relates to what Henare describes as the wealth paradox in our current society: the rates of wealth and of poverty rise together. The diminished well-being for such a significant group is no accident but a consequence of economic ideology which is no longer adequate for Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Well-being for all is a moral value and receives only lip service in our society. Well-being according to Henare is determined by communities and relates to their capacity to achieve it.

The question is: What are people capable of and what interferes with their achievement of it thus interfering with their well-being and happiness?

He introduced a ‘capabilities approach’ achieved by asking Māori and Pasifika communities what well-being means for them and what capabilities are needed to realise it.

The freedom to live differently is central to the development of capabilities. Rather than using gross domestic product as a measurement, the capabilities approach demands a reshaping of the economy and development of new measures for well-being. 

Such measures should emerge from four main tenets of Māoritangi: spiritual, environmental, kinship and economic.  Spiritual, environmental and kinship wealth are as important as economic wealth. The four areas are bound together within Mauri seen as the life force permeating all Māori and Pasifica thinking.

The challenge to improve the well-being of our children can no longer be ignored. Apart from the economic cost to society of poor investment, not accounting for the well-being of a child robs them of the chance to develop their potential and live a rewarding adult life.

Henare called for immediate consultation with Māori and Pasifica families and their communities because these suffer most from diminished well-being.

Both reports were commissioned by the ‘Every Child Counts’ group and are available with the speakers’ Powerpoint presentations by emailing