David Fisher

Senior reporter of the year

Suffer the little children

A documentary screening this week takes a critical look at child poverty.

Bryan Bruce says he's worried there's no long term plan. Photo / Supplied
Bryan Bruce says he's worried there's no long term plan. Photo / Supplied

TV 3 is to screen a major documentary next week promoting a key Labour Party policy as a way to end child poverty in New Zealand.

The screening of Inside Child Poverty on Tuesday is a provocative move, with viewers confronted by heart-rending scenes of children in squalid state houses.

Investigative journalist Bryan Bruce labels state housing as "disease-ridden slums" that would make former Labour prime minister Michael Joseph Savage "deeply angry".

Bruce closes the hour-long show telling viewers they need "politicians to show courage and wisdom and foresight".

He then points out there were cabinet portfolios for a string of areas, then adds: "What we don't have is a minister for children."

Bruce says: "When you look through the list of government ministers and see what they're in charge of, you get a pretty good idea of what's important to us in this country.

"We've got a Minister of Agriculture, tourism, finance, of sport. We even have a Minister of Racing."

The comments are similar to those by Labour deputy leader Annette King from a speech in May.

Bruce said the idea came from the British and Canadian Governments, both of which have ministers for children.

He said the issue of child health was an ethical and moral issue - not political.

"What worries me is that we are not talking together about a long term plan for our kids."

Bruce also speaks to the camera from the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial in Auckland, saying the former prime minister would be "deeply ashamed" that children in New Zealand suffer poverty-related diseases.

It is followed by an interview with an academic who says: "Labour builds them, maintains them reasonably well then National gets in ... sells off stock."

Bruce said he started making the documentary - with $105,000 of taxpayer money - last September and told TV3 he wanted it screened just before the election.

King said she had no knowledge of the documentary and did not know Bruce. "I would be surprised if he doesn't criticise all political parties for not addressing child poverty earlier."

King said a children's ministry was critical to ensure governments considered young people. She said every Cabinet paper needed to have a "child impact assessment".

Housing minister Phil Heatley defended the Government's record on state housing. He said Labour had left stock poorly maintained, and he claimed credit for the home insulation scheme.

Heatley accepted there was a link between poor housing and poverty-related illnesses.

"We've done a whole lot and we should have. We will do a while lot more and we need to."

Labour's Moana Mackey said Housing NZ was underfunded and needed more money for maintenance.

Labour's campaign strategist Grant Robertson applauded TV3 for screening the show. "I think it's good of TV3 to be running a documentary about a serious political issue like child poverty."

Inside Child Poverty screens on Tuesday, November 22, at 7.30pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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