The Expert Advisory group (EAG) set up by the Children's Commissioner, Hawke's Bay's Russell Wills, to consider child poverty, this week presented an Issues and Options Paper for Consultation.
Proposals included ensuring children are living in warm, dry homes by requiring a "WOF" for rentals, that they have enough food to concentrate at school through a food in schools programme, and are well connected to services that keep them healthy from early in life.
The EAG also suggests significant changes to child support, family assistance, housing, health, education and employment policies.
Targets to reduce child poverty rates by at least 30 per cent, and to halve severe and persistent child poverty within 10 years, have been set. A balance between "ensuring families have enough support from the government and supporting them into paid work," was crucial the EAG says. "All the evidence suggests that employment, especially sustainable and family-friendly work, is the best way out of poverty." The many press releases that followed told a rare story. Each and every one was in total agreement with what was proposed. There were no statements like, "doesn't go far enough".
Child poverty is clearly a major problem in New Zealand, and it is incredible to think that 270,000 or nearly one in four New Zealand children live below the poverty line.
It should also be seen as totally unacceptable to anyone who loves this country, because it is clearly a recipe for social disaster.
It is time for the Government to move the ambulance from the bottom of the cliff, for each and every child in New Zealand to be given the chance of a decent education before it is too late. Money spent now must be seen as an investment in a better future, a saving in later social costs.
Here is a sample from the press releases received by Hawke's Bay Today, from organisations who see the affects of poverty every day:
The child abuse prevention network Jigsaw, chief executive Sally Christie: "Poverty is one of the main causal factors in child abuse and neglect. There is strong evidence that investing in early childhood and preventing negative health and social outcomes will save money later on."
NZEI Te Riu Roa past president, Frances Nelson: "Teachers are struggling to educate children who arrive at school hungry, cold and with ongoing sickness caused by untreated conditions ... we need to tackle poverty instead of wasting money on developing dodgy National Standards and league tables which will not do anything towards raising student achievement."
The Salvation Army Community Ministries Major Pam Waugh:"[It] could finally address a shameful and costly social catastrophe. Reintroducing the universal child payment for the first five years and longer for poor families, as well as raising family tax credit to families with young or multiple children, would go a long way to solving the health, education and crime and punishment problems associated with poverty."
The Public Health Association (PHA) strategic advisor Maori public health, Keriata Stuart: "We know that poor quality, overcrowded housing, and families who have to move from place to place because of poverty, are a major contributor to child health problems such as respiratory illness and rheumatic fever."
Early Childhood Council CEO, Peter Reynolds: "Early childhood education for low-income children is like an inoculation for multiple diseases, with these diseases including low achievement at school, criminality, unemployment and poverty as an adult ... use early childhood education to not only educate at-risk children, but to educate and support their families as well."
Maori child advocacy organisation, Ririki, executive director Anton Blank: "The EAG has also recommended more government support for parenting programmes for Maori and Pasifika parents and caregivers. Around half of all Maori parents are under 25. These teenagers and young adults need information about how to be a good parent. Research tells us that the relationship between a caregiver and child is the most critical element of child development."
Every Child Counts chairwoman, Liz Gibbs: "The social and economic costs of leaving one-fifth of the nation's children in poverty are extremely high and many New Zealanders are beginning to question the wisdom of sitting at the bottom of the OECD on child wellbeing measures."
Need I say more. I don't think so. It's now up to the Government.
The Issues and Options Paper for Consultation is available at www.occ.org.nz. Feedback is sought over the next six weeks. A series of seminars will be held. In December Children's Commissioner, Dr Russell Wills, will receive the final report, which he will present as advice to the Prime Minister John Key.