NZ now ranks at bottom of developed world
The latest Unicef report has us languishing at the bottom of the developed world in relation to the health and welfare our children and youth. This report was based on the data our government collects and concerningly, with regards to child poverty, a ranking wasn't provided because of a refusal to follow standard practice (an admission of failure?). In many documented areas we are seriously neglecting our young people (ranking numbers are determined by the data provided from a maximum of 41 developed countries):
- Child Poverty (41/41?) I consider that we must be by far the worst in the developed world for child poverty when the Government refuses to use the same measures as other countries so that we can be ranked. Our Children's Commissioner and the Child Poverty Monitor currently state that 14% of our children suffer from material hardship. We have a much higher threshold to determine this and require 7 elements to recognise hardship, while most other countries use only two. The US is ranked 33 out of 37 for child poverty and they have 21% of their children in households living below the poverty threshold. 28% of our children live below the poverty line and 16% live in jobless households, so I would surmise that we could be the worst. We also have the most expensive housing in the world and a homelessness problem that has exploded in recent years. Between 2006 and 2013 homelessness grew by 25% and involved 1% of the population and 53% of our homeless were families with children. Now that shortages have become increasingly pronounced over the four years since then, I would suggest around 2% of the population is now homeless and many more are living in substandard housing. Third world diseases like rheumatic fever are now common place here, and are directly related to housing poverty. New Zealand is clearly too afraid to provide relevant statistics to enable us to be ranked.
- Teen Suicide (34/34) We are the worst by a great margin. The median number of teen suicides per 1,000 for developed nations is around 7.5, while 15.5 of our 15-19 year olds take their own lives. This is a shocking indictment on the ability of families to support their teens and our severely under-resourced mental health system. I can imagine few developed countries that would lock struggling youth in adult prisons because of a shortage of youth facilities. Those specialised youth facilities that do exist are run like prisons for hardened criminals. Youth prisoners can be locked in their cells for 19 hours a day, which is classified as torture, is emotionally damaging and unlikely to support rehabilitation.
- Jobless Households (35/37) 16% of our children live in households not supported by employment. Benefits have not kept up with inflation and many of these beneficiary families will be experiencing high levels of poverty. There are also those in real need who don't receive a benefit, despite entitlements, because of bureaucratic difficulties and many are forced onto the street with no income at all.
- Environmental Awareness (34/36) The National Government forced National Standards in Education on schools, requiring a heavy emphasis on literacy and numeracy above all other learning areas. Consequently our 15 year olds have less understanding of the key environmental issues facing our planet then most other countries. Given that our waterways have become seriously degraded over the last ten years, and we have the highest number of species facing extinction in the world, this is concerning. Only 49% knew something about at least five environmental issues, while the average in other countries was 62% (82% for Portugal). Keeping our young people ignorant of New Zealand's many environmental crises is a form of state control to reduce any scrutiny of our current policies. New Zealand has also been globally ridiculed for its weak climate change targets, we are little better than Trump.
- Teenage Birth Rate (36/41) We have one of the highest rates of teenage births (23.3 births out of every 1000). With increased alcohol consumption and binge drinking amongst young females we are also experiencing greater numbers of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. While it is hard to put an accurate figure on numbers it is estimated that between 1 and 5 births in every 100 have FASD and a large proportion is likely to come from younger mothers.
- Inequity in Education (34/39) We have one of the greatest disparities of educational achievement when related to socio-economic influences. Private and high decile schools capture significantly more funding and resources per student than low decile schools.
- Inclusive Economy (34/40) The unemployment rate for Maori youth is almost 26% (14% for non-Maori). 90,000 young people in NZ have no training or job to go to. Despite what the government says about our economy, the jobs available in NZ are predominantly low waged and insecure compared to most other developed nations. We also have a youth rate where we employ young people at lower rates than adults who do the same job. We have a large number of casual, minimum waged jobs and we also work amongst the longest hours.
- Homicide and Bullying (33/40) We have the second highest rates of bullying in the OECD and concerning levels of youth committing violent crimes. Family violence is a massive issue in New Zealand and violence begets violence.
- Child Murder (31/37) the number of children in NZ who have been murdered is a national shame. We have the worst levels of family violence in the developed world but our violence counselling services are underfunded and our social worker numbers have been reduced. The damning review of CYFs resulted in the development of a new Ministry, but unless it is properly resourced we risk repeating the same horrific mistakes. Domestic violence costs the country around $7 billion (estimated around 525,000 harmed last year) and the Government's injection of a paltry $347 million over four years will not even scratch the surface nor pay for the social workers needed to do the work.
- Neonatal Mortality Rate (28/36) New Zealand used to have a world regarded Plunket system and many rural maternity hospitals to support mothers and babies. Over the last decade or so we have seen mothers pushed out of maternity wards because of a lack of beds and rural hospitals closed. Plunket struggles to offer the same level of service as in the past.
- Reducing Inequality (26/41) New Zealand was once considered an egalitarian society but since the 1990s we have experienced the highest increase in inequality in the developed world. Our efforts to address this are well less than average. Norway, Iceland and Finland have been the most effective at addressing child poverty, there is no real reason why we couldn't follow their lead rather than following neoliberal policies being pursued by the US and UK (which clearly don't work).
- Food Insecurity (21/41) In the land of milk and honey, where we export more food than we can consume, a high percentage of our children go hungry or suffer from a poor diet. Milk is cheaper in the countries we export to and 32% of our children are obese or overweight, largely due to poor diets. This Government removed the requirement for healthy food in schools. Charities like KidsCan have had to take on the Government's responsibilities regarding providing food and basic necessities. KidsCan claims that almost 300,000 children live in hardship, 1 in 4 don't have the basics and 3,855 are missing out because the charity does not have the resources to meet demand.
- Education Performance (15/38) A decade ago our children's academic performance put us in the top 4 in the world, we have now dropped to 15th. 71.9% of our 15 year olds currently achieve baseline competency in reading, mathematics and science (Finland and Canada have over 80% achieving this). We have a long under-achieving tail and yet our special education support is severely underfunded and our school support staffing is under resourced.
The shift to the bottom of the world for our care of children and youth has been a steady process for at least three decades, as neoliberal policies have replaced the welfare state vision of the first Labour Government. The "applied Christianity" ethos of Michael Savage, and the idea of the Government leading a caring society, has been replaced by viewing the support for the vulnerable as a cost to be avoided and doing as little as possible. Under this National Government, over the last nine years, the word "crisis" is being increasingly used and most could have been avoided with proper planning and investment.
The belief that more can be delivered with less and the use of narrow targets has created an overworked, under qualified and stressed social service and medical workforce. Consequently we have a rapidly growing prison population and facilities bursting at the seams. Prison staff are forced to resort to long periods of lockdown and physical restraint rather than running decent rehabilitation programmes. Over a billion dollars is being spent on new prisons and yet rehabilitation and the substandard housing and social pressures that contribute to offending have token amounts invested.
Our failing prisons, struggling hospitals and social services, extreme housing crisis and low wage economy is forcing more and more families into lifestyles and living conditions that are rapidly becoming third world. New Zealand should be the best country in the world to bring up children and youth. We have a relatively small population, abundant resources and were once a world leader in education, child health and family support. We are now ranked near the bottom because of poor governance, neoliberal austerity measures and a lack of compassion.
We need a change of government!
We need a change of government!