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Little improvement in poverty-related health stats

Monday 10 Dec 2012 6:15 a.m.

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By 3 News online staff / NZN / RadioLIVE

A new report out this morning shows little improvement in the number of children showing up in hospitals with poverty-related illnesses.

The Children's Social Health Monitor has been tracking our children's health since the start of the recession in 2007. Four thousand more children suffering from poverty-related illnesses turned up in hospitals last year than four years ago.

Rates for a number of avoidable conditions are still on the rise, with more youngsters presenting with serious skin conditions and rheumatic fever by the year. That's despite better economic conditions, push to increase vaccination rates, insulation programmes for houses and access to free after-hours clinics.

"Some of the adaptations families make in response to their inadequate resources may have detrimental health consequences for their children," the report states.

It shows one in five children are dependent on state benefits, with Maori and Pacific children more likely to be hospitalised with poverty-related illnesses.

The report's head researcher, Elizabeth Craig, says the report does not necessarily draw a link between poverty and poor health but it is a likely factor.

“The data we use can’t do a direct cause of relationship say between rising unemployment and admissions, but what we know is that children in the poorest areas have rates of two, three, four times higher,” she told Firstline this morning.

Dr Craig says while child abuse rates are falling, taking these statistics at face value may be problematic.

“When I talk to paediatricians… they say that probably rates are under-reporting by about half.”

Labour's spokesperson for children, Jacinda Ardern, says the report validates calls for more Government services to be provided through schools and kindergartens.

"These children, particularly in this report, are more likely to suffer bronchiectasis, rheumatic fever, diseases of overcrowding and poor housing."

Rates are high for Maori and Pacific Island children, and Dr Craig says this is possibly to do with the number of children in those communities living in overcrowded homes.

Ms Ardern says more jobs are needed to get children out of poverty.

"Poverty is making our children sick," she told Fairfax NZ. "Now more than ever the Government needs to focus on reducing poverty rates. Until it does, we will all pay the price."

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says much more must be done, and quickly, to reduce New Zealand's "distressing rates of ill health amongst Maori and Pacific children which are rooted in poverty".

It says for every 100 "European or other" children hospitalised last year there were 167 Maori or 251 Pacific children admitted.

Families on severely restricted incomes - such as beneficiaries - suffered stress, poor diet and were more likely to live in substandard or overcrowded housing, the group said.

"The Government should increase the sustained assistance it gives low income families so they can provide for children now - the children cannot wait for more jobs with adequate wages to appear," said CPAG's Innes Asher.

"The poor state of children's health is the most obvious sign that New Zealand is not investing enough in children's early years."

More than 36,000 children were admitted to hospital last year with illnesses linked to poverty. More than 600 have died in the last five years after suffering poverty-related illness and injuries.

RadioLIVE / 3 News / NZN

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