Kirsty Wynn

Kirsty Wynn is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Child poverty ills rising

A 2-year-old girl looks out from the one room rental shared by her mother and father in Mangere. Photo / Richard Robinson
A 2-year-old girl looks out from the one room rental shared by her mother and father in Mangere. Photo / Richard Robinson

A "shocking" increase in the number of children being admitted to hospital with illnesses caused by poverty is revealed in a major new report.

Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills describes his Child Poverty Monitor, to be published tomorrow, as the first step in measuring child poverty in New Zealand.

The report comes amid fresh allegations the Government is consistently ignoring health officials' advice to measure and target child poverty, according to papers obtained by the Greens.

Wills' report is expected to reveal a 12 per cent rise from 2007 to 2011 in hospital admissions for poverty-related illnesses such as acute bronchiolitis, gastroenteritis, asthma, acute upper respiratory infections and skin infections.

"Most New Zealanders will find the numbers of children affected by disease shocking," Wills told the Herald on Sunday, "but for those of us working clinically with families in poverty it is not surprising."

Wills also works as a paediatrician in Hawke's Bay. He said hospital wards were now full of poor, sick children every month of the year - not just in winter. There was no longer a "summer lull" in diseases.

"I do see parents who have made bad choices but most families on the hospital wards with sick children are spending their very small income very carefully," he said. "You don't get 10 to 12 people living in a two-bedroom house because they want to." The Government lacked "a plan" to reduce child poverty.

Papers released under the Official Information Act to Green MP Kevin Hague show the Public Health Advisory Committee recommended setting targets to reduce child poverty, in 2009. "Nothing has happened to that recommendation," he said. "They don't want to look bad."

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, who appointed Wills as Children's Commissioner, is adamant child poverty has got no worse. "We are warming up their homes, we are getting them immunised, we are getting them into early childhood education, and we are making sure that we wrap support around those children who are most vulnerable - and that is making a difference," she told Parliament this week.

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