Monday, November 21, 2011

The cost of child poverty

In their material on child poverty, anti-poverty campaigners have stressed its long-term costs: lower incomes, worse health, more crime. But it has an appalling direct cost as well: around 150 dead children every year:

Last year, more than 25,000 children were admitted to hospital for respiratory infections. Doctors routinely treat cases of rheumatic fever and scabies – diseases now rare in Europe.

The reason behind these preventable diseases were appalling rates of child poverty that New Zealand could not afford to ignore, Mr Bruce said.

In the two years he spent researching the topic, he visited schools, doctors and low-income families in eastern Porirua. Cross-referencing world development indicators with mortality data, he found that 150 children who died in New Zealand last year would probably have survived had they lived in Japan, Sweden or the Czech Republic. New Zealand is second to last in child health and safety rankings of 30 OECD countries, with only Turkey worse.

As with low air quality standards, this is a diffuse sort of murder. But it is murder just the same. These children die because of a conscious policy choice. They die because successive governments have decided that we need this sort of poverty to provide a "work incentive" to force people to take minimum wage jobs.

To their credit, Labour has now recanted from this position (the Greens of course opposed it from the beginning, and have strong policies to deal with it). As for National, well, they don't want to talk about it:

Health Minister Tony Ryall could not be contacted yesterday, and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett did not respond to a request to comment.
One hundred and fifty dead children a year, and the government doesn't want to talk about it. They'll bang the law and order drum about a handful of serious child abuse cases every year, promising harsher sentences and attacking the right to silence, but they're dead silent on this. I think that speaks volumes about their commitment to dealing with the problem and saving these lives.