Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Our children, our future, National's failure!
More than 300,000 children in New Zealand now suffer from income related poverty according to the Children's Commissioner. This is 45,000 children more than what was documented in his previous report a year ago and brings the poverty percentage up from 24% of children to 29%. We are almost at the point when 1 out of every 3 children lives in an income deprived household.
The future of our society and our economy is dependent on the support we provide oncoming generations and yet a growing proportion are starting life in environments that are detrimental to their health and development. The first five years of life practically determine a child's future and serious respiratory illness or rheumatic fever in the early years generally results in a life time disability.
There is also a connection between poverty and domestic violence and in 2014 there were 102,000 family violence investigations (up 7% from 2013). On average the police are being called out to a family violence incident every five and a half minutes. New Zealand has one of the worst records for child welfare in the OECD and one of the highest youth suicide rates. Alcohol consumption is also related to a large percent of violent and criminal behaviour.
The physical and psychological damage being caused to many of our children is extreme and the organisation charged with protecting our most vulnerable has been found wanting in a recent report. Most children ending up under Child Youth and Family care end up no better off than they were in their previous circumstances because of a culture described as "dump and run". State care stops at age 17 and these youth are abandoned to survive on their own on minimal benefits. We have one of the highest imprisonment rates in the world and 83% of inmates under 20 have a care and protection record with CYF.
We also have a severe housing problem (currently 15,000 homes short in Auckland and rising to an estimated 25,000 by 2018) and the growing numbers of homeless families living in garages, cars, on the streets or crammed into already overcrowded homes are reflecting this. However, many of those lucky enough to get a house find that they are poorly insulated, damp and unhealthy and the cause of growing hospital presentations and even death.
1/3 of our children are overweight or obese and those children living in deprived circumstances are five times more likely to be obese than those in the least deprived areas. Pasifika families are amongst our poorest families and 30% of Pacific children are obese.
Mai Chen is leading the Superdiversity Socktake and under the current population trends, Europeans will soon be a minority in New Zealand, with Maori, Pasifika and Asian communities dominating in the decades ahead. Poverty and poor health affect Maori and Pasifika children more than others and they are becoming a larger percentage of our population.
The Government has refused to measure child poverty in any meaningful way and has desperately tried to hide the true extent of the problem. Nothing that they have done over the last seven years effectively addresses the causes of poverty. Rather than ensuring children are able to live in healthy, loving environments where their parents earn an adequate income to meet their physical and educational needs they have thrown bandaids at the problem. Anne Tolley's list of government responses are just reactionary tinkerings around the edges and for every new initiative that is funded, another is removed. Surprisingly children from wealthy homes are more likely to receive support than those who are are not, 25% of Kings College students received special education support when sitting NCEA.
Inequality is a large part of the problem and, while wealthy New Zealanders have seen their incomes dramatically rise under a National Government, those on the lowest incomes have seen their spending power stagnate and drop. Our economy recovered from the great financial crisis quicker than most and little of that recovery was shared with those who needed it most. The most recent example of the the extent of inequality was when our elected representatives were provided with pay increases at least double the median increase received by most workers. Our Prime Minister received a 3.11% pay rise or $13,000 more onto his annual income, this contrasts with the biggest increase that beneficiaries had received for some time ($25 a week) which will see them gain $1,300 a year.
Our children can't vote and have no political power and yet they are hugely significant in determining the future of our country. A lack of investment in our children will seriously limit our long term resilience and directly impact on the kind of society we will have in the future. 300,000 children desperately need safe and healthy homes, good food and their educational needs met. Their parents can only provide these if they earn enough and decent affordable homes are readily available. This National Government can't fob off responsibility any longer, substantial and urgent action is needed right now. The cost of doing little is substantial.