More children living in crammed homes are ending up in hospital, as a new report shows one in four children remain mired in poverty.
A new rigorous measure of child poverty released today shows that about one in six Kiwi children are going without basic necessities. This could mean not having a bed, delaying a doctor's visit or missing out on meals.
It also shows hospital admissions for children with medical conditions linked to poverty are rising. Tens of thousands of children are admitted every year for respiratory and infectious diseases associated with living in damp, overcrowded homes.
"I see these poor preschool children in crowded homes that are cold and damp coming in with skin infections. They are filling our wards," Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, a Hawke's Bay paediatrician, said.
Children, particularly the youngest, remain the most impoverished group of New Zealanders, three times more likely to live in poverty than those past retirement age.
And the gap between those going without and the rest is showing no signs of narrowing, with children born to solo beneficiary parents by far the most likely to get sick or injured.
But child poverty is also reaching far beyond beneficiaries, with about two out of five impoverished kids living in working families. Overall 265,000 children live in poverty, which is measured by children living in households with less than 60 per cent of the median income after housing costs.
The report, called the Child Poverty Monitor, was commissioned by Dr Wills after the Government rejected calls to start a comprehensive measure of child poverty.
Instead the commissioner recruited private funding from Wellington charity J R McKenzie Trust and will now report back every year on the health and well-being of our most vulnerable children.
It is the second report in less than a week that has shone a poor light on child poverty, with Unicef reporting last week that New Zealand was failing to uphold the rights of children.
Otago University senior clinical epidemiologist Liz Craig, who helped write the commissioner's report, said it showed New Zealand had yet to "turn the corner" of poor child health.
Particularly worrying were babies living in damp, cold homes.
While there were more encouraging signs in a steady drop in the number of children being assaulted, the figures were muddied by changes in reporting and did not show a clear improvement, Dr Craig said."We are still killing seven or eight kids a year, so we can't be complacent."
Dr Wills said the report was not an "ivory tower paper" but a reflection of the "grim reality" of children's health in 2013.
He said there remained widespread public ignorance about the extent of child poverty and how badly it had deteriorated in the past 30 years. "Child poverty has at least doubled by any measure since I was a kid."
Tackling child poverty needed a plan enshrined in law, similar to tackling road deaths, he said.
However, stronger public consensus was needed before politicians would act as it required tough choices, including removing assistance for some families to give to the most vulnerable.
"There will be winners and losers."
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the ministry was already measuring child poverty, and the commissioner's report was just "repackaged" government figures.
"We have prioritised children, particularly those most vulnerable, and we're taking a thoughtful and strategic approach to tackling complex social issues."
But Labour spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said the report showed the Government was taking the wrong approach and needed to focus more on child poverty rather than just on abuse.
Labour would fund the monitor if it was elected to Government, she said.
"It is a disgrace that the commissioner has had to go and get money from a charitable organisation for this."
STATE OF CHILD POVERTY
265,000 children live in poverty, defined by income.
1 in 3 Maori and Pacific children live in poverty.
1 in 7 European children live in poverty.
1 in 6 struggle to afford basic necessities such as healthcare and clothing.
1 in 10 suffer from severe poverty, lacking basic necessities and adequate income.
3 out of 5 will be living in poverty for much of their childhood.
51 per cent are from sole parent families. 60 per cent are from beneficiary families.
- The Dominion Post