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A one-day "summit" on children and the recession has called for higher welfare benefits and clear targets to eradicate child poverty.

The summit of 70 leaders of non-profit groups was organised by the umbrella group Every Child Counts, led by Barnardos chief executive Murray Edridge, in an attempt to balance the Government's "jobs summit" of business leaders in March.

Housing Minister Phil Heatley agreed to take the Mangere meeting's six-point plan to alleviate child poverty, and another 36 specific recommendations, to the Cabinet.

He declined to comment on specific recommendations but quoted US President Barack Obama saying he did not want to take away anti-recessionary stimulus measures too soon.

"We are ... looking for new ideas because, as Barack Obama warns, [we are] against cutting off Government aid so soon that the recovery doesn't take off," he said.

Dr Kathryn Franko, who leads a Liggins Institute project to calculate the cost of a poor start to life, told Mr Heatley that the critical period to invest in the country's "human capital" was in children from conception to age 2. "After age 2 it's too late for an intervention to appreciably change life course outcomes, particularly cardiovascular disease," she said.

Community Waitakere manager Pat Watson, who chaired a workshop on social exclusion, said child poverty was increasing in the recession, with the number of children in benefit-dependent families up from 199,108 to 219,627 in the past year.

"Benefits are too low and well below the poverty threshold," she said. "We want a substantial lift in benefit levels for households with children to avoid negative impact on the economy further down the track."

Her group and others also called for restoring the training incentive allowance for beneficiaries studying above school level. The allowance was restricted to school-level qualifications in the Budget.

Ani Pitman of Northland's Amokura family violence prevention programme, speaking for a Maori caucus, said young women should not be herded into menial jobs.

"We like the idea of being barristers rather than baristas," she said.

A group on children's first three years chaired by Anglican Trust for Women and Children chief executive Wilson Irons called for extending paid parental leave from 14 weeks to a year, including "equity for parents who stay at home". At present paid leave is only available for parents who keep working until just before giving birth, excluding fulltime parents at home with older children.

A health group chaired by Dr Nikki Turner proposed cutting the cost of after-hours healthcare and providing breakfast in all schools in the poorest fifth of the country.


* One plan integrating economic innovation and productivity with equitable social redistribution that invests in children.

* Targets to eradicate child poverty.

* Invest in learning for parents and children together.

* Child impact assessments for new policies.

* Prioritise the period from conception to age 2.

* Raise welfare benefits.