Friday, June 04, 2010

Not such a great place to raise kids

Kiwis like to think of New Zealand as "a great place to raise kids". But a study from the Public Health Advisory Committee has shown that this is a lie. Or rather, its only a great place to raise kids if you are rich.

The study - The Best Start in Life: Achieving effective action on child health and wellbeing [PDF] - found a significant gradient in health outcomes and life chances between rich and poor households. The richest households ranked near the top of the scale for child welfare, up there with Norway and Japan. The poorest ones were down there with Turkey and Mexico, barely developed countries. And because there are vastly more poor households than rich ones, our overall statistics are bad:

Out of 30 OECD countries, New Zealand was ranked 21st for infant mortality, 29th for measles immunisation rates, 20th for the percentage of children living in poor households and 17th for the percentage of children in overcrowded houses.

New Zealand was also fourth to bottom among all OECD countries for injury deaths among one to four-year-olds, had 14 times the average OECD rate of rheumatic fever, five to 10 times the rate of whooping cough and pneumonia compared with the United Kingdom and United States and four to six times the rate of child maltreatment compared with the best countries.

(Not mentioned in the report: we rank second-worst in the rich world in UNICEF's overall index of child well-being. The only country worse than us is the UK.)

To solve this, the PHAC recommends increased investment in child health (currently half the OECD average), free 24-hour primary healthcare for children, and a Minister for Children to advocate for child welfare in Cabinet. These are all sensible suggestions. Quite apart from the immediate welfare issues, which are worthy in themselves, children are our future - investing in them is an investment in New Zealand's future. Healthier children today means healthier adults tomorrow, which means lower long-term health costs for the government. But why would National be interested in that?