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Poverty Watch 20

Written By: - Date published: 8:17 am, February 23rd, 2013 - 11 comments
Categories: national, poverty - Tags:

In recent posts in this series we’ve focused on the Children’s Social Health Monitor 2012 Update Report, see the the full report (pdf) here.  Today we look at the first of the Health and Wellbeing Indicators.


This is where the effects of poverty are most fundamentally and most cruelly felt – in its impact on health and mortality. The effects are in line with the economic indicators that have been covered in the report – the Maori / Pacific economic disadvantage is directly reflected in health:

In New Zealand, there are currently large disparities in child health status, with Māori and Pacific children and those living in more deprived areas experiencing a disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality [1]. These disparities were present even in the mid 2000s when New Zealand experienced some of its lowest unemployment rates in recent decades. The macroeconomic environment began to change in 2008, however, with the country officially entering a recession at the end of June 2008 after two consecutive quarters of negative growth. While New Zealand technically left the recession at the end of June 2009 (when quarterly growth reached +0.1% [2]) progress since then has been variable, with unemployment rates and the number of children reliant on benefit recipients remaining higher than in the mid-2000s.

The effects of these economic changes on socially sensitive health outcomes for children remain unclear. Research suggests that the impacts may vary, not only with the magnitude and duration of any economic downturn, but also as a result of the Government’s social policy responses and the extent to which it maintains an effective social safety net for those most affected. …

The report covers data on the distribution of causes of hospital admissions (from 2007 – 2011 the top three are Acute Bronchiolitis, Gastroenteritis, Asthma) and mortality (the top cause is Sudden Unexpected Deaths in Infancy (SUDI)). Of particular interest, as usual, are the recent trends in the data.

Hospital Admissions: In New Zealand, medical admissions with a social gradient increased during the early 2000s, reached a peak in 2002, and then declined, with an upswing in rates again being evident during 2007–2009. In contrast, injury admissions with a social gradient declined throughout 2000–2011 (Figure 20).

Mortality: In New Zealand, mortality from injuries with a social gradient decreased between 2000 and 2004, but fluctuated thereafter. Similarly, post-neonatal SUDI decreased between 2000 and 2002 and thereafter remained relatively static, while mortality from medical conditions with a social gradient fluctuated throughout 2000–2009 (Figure 20).

When broken down by primary diagnosis, trends in medical conditions with a social gradient varied by condition, with increases being evident for acute upper respiratory infections, viral infections of unspecified site, skin infections, urinary tract infections and dermatitis and eczema. In contrast, admissions for inguinal hernias, otitis media, bacterial/non-viral pneumonia and meningococcal disease declined during the 2000s (Figure 21–Figure 24).

Figure 20 is included below, for the others see the report.


Many of the medical conditions which are trending upwards are (as noted by other reports) conditions associated with overcrowding and poor living conditions – direct symptoms of poverty. Shamefully, we are seeing the re-emergence of “third world diseases” in New Zealand.

This section continues with an analysis of trends by ethnicity (as expected Maori and Pacific populations are over-represented). We’ll carry on with the second Health and Wellbeing Indicator next week.

In current news, the second anniversary of the most destructive Christchurch earthquake highlights the impact of poverty and poor living conditions in that damaged city:

Poverty strikes at home, children first victims

An increase in poverty-related illnesses and “Third World diseases” among Christchurch children is worrying health professionals and community workers.

Skin conditions such as scabies and ringworm are cropping up at city medical centres and primary schools as hundreds of families continue to live in overcrowded, damp homes almost two years after the Canterbury earthquakes. …

Some children are being sent home from school with contagious infections, and health professionals fear low-income families are shying away from medical treatment because they cannot even afford food. The problem appears to have hit the city’s Maori and Pacific Island communities hardest. …

Aranui Primary School principal Mike Allen said scabies, school sores and head lice were “anecdotally getting worse”. Jo Barlow, principal of Aranui’s St James School, had also seen a rise in scabies. Pre-earthquake, the disease was uncommon, but in the past two years at least five families had contracted it, she said.

It’s all very well having a rebuild plan for the CBD – but what is the government doing for the families and children who are still living in damaged, unhealthy, and unsafe conditions?

Here’s the standard footnote. Poverty (and inequality) were falling (albeit too slowly) under the last Labour government.   Now they are on the rise again, in fact a Waikato University professor says that poverty is our biggest growth industry.

Before the last election Labour called for a cross party working group on poverty. Key turned the offer down.  Report after report after report has condemned the rate of poverty in this country, and called on the government to act. Meanwhile 40,000 kids are fed by charities and up to 80,000 are going to school hungry. National has responded with complete denial of the issues, saying that the government is already doing enough to help families feed their kids. Organisations working with the poor say that Key is in poverty ‘la la land’.

The Nats refuse to even measure the problem (though they certainly believe in measurement and goals when it suits them to bash beneficiaries). In a 2012 summary of the government’s targets and goals John Armstrong wrote: “Glaringly absent is a target for reducing child poverty”…

The costs of child poverty are in the range of $6-8 Billion per year, but the Nats refuse to spend the $2 Billion that would be needed to really make a difference. Even in purely economic terms National’s attitude makes no sense.

11 comments on “Poverty Watch 20”

  1. Rogue Trooper 1

    NAct just watching

  2. It is not easy to think of anything suitable to say to the shocking information of this painful article. The best I can come up with is I view the poverty and poor health that this article points to as a reflection of the poverty of values, heart and intelligence we, collectively, [don’t] have to allow this.

    I guess this is the inevitable result of placing value on profit over everything else.

    • In short, this article is damning and I’m guessing that is why there are so few comments. I have forced myself to write a comment in order to acknowledge the shameful reality. It is not easy to face up to some things, yet it is altogether better that we do.

      • r0b 2.1.1

        Not every post needs to be for comments, and after 20 episodes of Poverty Watch perhaps there isn’t much new for folk to say. In truth I write these for myself (to force me to read the reports, and learn), and I write them for “the record” (because child poverty shouldn’t be allowed to become last year’s issue).

        • just saying

          because child poverty shouldn’t be allowed to become last year’s issue).

          Which nicely introduces the question I’ve wanted to ask about this column. Is this “Poverty Watch” or “Child Poverty Watch”?

          I realise that most debate and research is about child poverty, and I certainly think child poverty is the most important variety because of the irreversible lifelong effects. But I want to say that all poverty matters. It matters that adults are living in poverty in this land of plenty, and not just in how that might impact on any children they might have.

          Framing poverty as “child poverty” plays into the right-wing narrative about “innocent” children who shouldn’t pay for the “sins” of their parents. It’s part of the deserving vs undeserving poor narrative that (imo) is a big part of the problem of all poverty, including child poverty. Ultimately, having the left buying into framing the problem of poverty as ‘child poverty’ will lead to more child poverty than standing up against all poverty. NZ is a rich country and all poverty is a national disgrace, and noone deserves it.

          • r0b

            Which nicely introduces the question I’ve wanted to ask about this column. Is this “Poverty Watch” or “Child Poverty Watch”?

            Fair question, I was thinking myself earlier that the focus was a bit narrow. I have been looking more at child poverty (and will as I work through these reports). But the longer term aim is to pull it back to poverty in general.

            Not sure that child poverty plays to a right wing agenda though. Their argument is that people “choose” or “deserve” to be poor. But that argument fails completely when it comes to children…

            • just saying

              Not sure that child poverty plays to a right wing agenda though. Their argument is that people “choose” or “deserve” to be poor. But that argument fails completely when it comes to children…

              Exactly. The deserving and the undesrving poor. Do you believe that Rob – That adults choose the poverty “lifestyle” from all the other choices open to them, and deliberately inflict it on their kids?

              The minute the left buys into the deserving and undeserving narrative the argument is lost. School lunches may be provided eventually, which would be an improvement, but the argument is about adult poverty is ceded – kids may get a lunch, but the lot of their families and everyone else who is suffering poverty, over time, is worsened by the unchallenged blame inherent in the “innocent children” line. Ultimately the community will not be blackmailed by feckless parents holding their kids to ransom for more money for the smokes, booze and pokie machines. If we believe that poor families are perfectly capable of meeting the needs of their children, but choose not to, in the end we close our hearts to the plight of the “innocent children” beyond bangers and mash at lunchtime.

          • Draco T Bastard

            Any and all poverty shows the failure of what ever socio-economic system that is being used. In our case it is the failure of the neo-liberal free-market capitalism. Thing is, under all forms of capitalism, there will always be poverty as the capitalist systems channel all of the wealth into the hands of the few.

            It is right that we concern ourselves with the poverty that abounds around us but we should not let that focus distract us from what causes it.

          • blue leopard

            @Just Saying

            I find your comment interesting, I have always had a wee ‘pang’ of discomfort over the focus on child poverty (not specifically these Poverty Watch posts, just having noticed when poverty is mentioned in MSM, the focus always seems to be on child poverty), I had assumed this is done in order to appeal to the largest amount of people and the ‘pang’ is due to feeling what a pity it is that ‘we’ don’t have more concern about ‘grown-ups’ too. Therefore, interested in your interpretation on the right-wing framing.

            And helpful to read r0bs response too.

            I would be interested to find out about the state of poverty in general in NZ.

            Incidentally I was particularly moved about the worst health effects being amongst Maori & Pacific children. I understand this is the case with other indigenous groups in other countries, and have read it explained that this has at least something to do cultural oppression*. I wonder if there are many studies on separating this issue (indigenous oppression~colonization) from the effects of poverty and genetic predisposition?

            It is interesting to note that Pacific children are being affected the worst alongside Maori; in this case it wouldn’t be a case of the effects of being colonized affecting the equation. Would effects of racist oppression be coming into play here as well as effects of poverty, or genetics?

            *I think the report I read this in was from one of those major organizations World Health or perhaps from a group more specific to issues affecting indigenous peoples. (can’t remember).

        • blue leopard

          Thanks for posting these articles r0b

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