The Child Poverty Action group has put on notice the government’s lack of a comprehensive policy for children in the way of a UN report scrutinising child health and welfare statistics.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has examined the combined third and fourth periodic report of New Zealand on how New Zealand is implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive Sue Mackwell, told the committee that although some issues still need work, New Zealand is doing well in many areas. She highlighted the 20 hours per week of ‘free’ early childhood care for all three and four-year-olds, ‘free’ access to primary healthcare for all under-six-year-olds and children of low-income families and a ‘comprehensive income assistance package’ for families with children.
These arguments are an inaccurate presentation of what has happened for children, says Child Poverty Action Group’s Susan St John. The 20 hours ‘free’ early childhood education is often a cruel joke, as families have to pay for the hours on either side of the maximum six hours under this policy per day. Some poorer areas do not have places for all the children who qualify for the service. The ‘free’ primary healthcare is also an exaggeration: only 82 percent of children under six are able to access free primary healthcare services and only during business hours. Unfortunately, too, says St John, the ‘comprehensive income assistance package for families with children’ is offered only to families who meet the stringent paid-work requirements and are not receiving other government help such as a benefit, a student loan or ACC.
The committee expert serving as rapporteur for the report, Maria Herczog, said that in spite of the favourable situation for most children, child rights-based policies and an overarching comprehensive child policy did not exist in New Zealand.
The 20 percent of New Zealand children in poverty was particularly remarked on. Mackwell admitted that ‘More needs to be done to assist those children who fall through the gap’. CPAG asks: Where is the plan? Where is the commitment to honour our pledge to put the needs of children first? Government policy has created the gap and is, therefore, in a position to stop children falling through it. We can expect an even worse report next time unless the government makes sure that appropriate resources actually reach the poorest children. CPAG expects this to be a major election issue this year.