Dylan Thorne

Dylan is the deputy editor of the Bay of Plenty Times.

Editorial: Beehive must act on child poverty

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An advisory group has recommended all pupils in low-decile schools should be offered free food to help combat child poverty.

One in four, or about 270,000 New Zealand children, live in poverty, which according to the advisory group affects their development, behaviour and physical health.

The figures raise serious questions as to how we, as a society, feel about so many children living below the poverty line.

There are no easy solutions to the root causes of poverty such as expanding income inequality and high unemployment but - given the number of discussions and reports on the issue - it's time for the Government to act.

Prime Minister John Key has already dismissed as "dopey" another recommendation from the advisory group for a universal child payment and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has been accused of being flippant about child poverty by saying measuring it was difficult because children moved in and out of poverty on a daily or weekly basis.

However, it's becoming clear that not taking action will cost the country more in the long run than investing an adequate amount of money into these children's lives.

This week independent researcher John Pearce, who spent two years studying the subject, told the Public Health Association Conference the costs of child poverty were in four areas - poor education and its effect on productivity ($2.2 billion), health ($3 billion-$4.5 billion), crime ($2.2 billion) and social welfare ($1.4 billion).

The costs associated with the package of ideas put forward by the The Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty are modest in comparison.

As well as food in schools and a universal child payment, the proposals include ensuring children are living in warm, dry homes by requiring a "WoF" for rentals and taking steps to ensure children are well connected with health services.

The Bay of Plenty Times this week reported on Merivale Primary School, which is already providing meals for hungry pupils. The Government needs to follow the school's lead and take a proactive approach.

Obviously, schools providing food is not going solve the whole problem but it will make a real difference to kids arriving at school hungry.

Many may argue it's a parent's responsibility to feed their children. In a perfect world this would be the case but, in reality, a large portion of children - through no fault of their own - are going without.

The advisory group has put forward a sensible set of actions and the Government needs to respond.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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