Warning: Income disparities impact on child wellbeing

Monday 13 December 2010, 3:50PM

“The overall picture painted by the updated 2010 Children’s Social Health Monitor is deeply concerning” said Dennis McKinlay, UNICEF NZ executive director.

The 2010 Children’s Social Health Monitor (CSHM) released today at the Dunedin School of Medicine points out large disparities in child health status with children in families most affected by the economic downturn and dependent on benefits especially vulnerable. The CSHM maintains that children and young people living in more deprived areas experience significantly worse health outcomes across a range of measures and that growing up in a low income family increases the risk of poor outcomes such as low educational achievement and subsequent exclusion from employment.

 “That so many of our children are admitted to hospital for illnesses associated with socio-economic deprivation is a wake up call for all New Zealanders” he said “Almost 2000 more in 2009 than in 2007. Protecting all children during their vital, vulnerable years of growth is the means of building a better future for both the individual and for society.

“Children’s early circumstances are beyond their control yet have a profound effect on their present lives and future prospects.  Children are not responsible for the circumstances of their birth, upbringing nor for the opportunities that will enable them to contribute in a meaningful and productive way to society, when they become adults.

“If we fail to ensure all children regardless of the circumstances of their birth and material environment, have full opportunity to realise their potential, there is no doubt that our society will bear the heavy burden of cost in the future”.

He referred to a report recently released by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre* which claimed disparity gaps between children who are doing well and those at the bottom end of the wellbeing table are not inevitable but are a matter of policy choice, evidenced by what some OECD countries have already achieved for children.

The UNICEF report showed that there is considerable variation in how well countries allow disparities between what is considered a ‘normal’ standard of child wellbeing and children who are at the “bottom end” of the disparity ranking.  The UNICEF report states that many of these children risk being left behind – neither included nor protected - by the wealthy societies in which they live.

 Mr McKinlay pointed to New Zealand’s low ranking out of 30 OECD countries for preventable, infectious diseases and the serious long term health consequences for children affected by poverty-related diseases such as rheumatic fever – 14 times the OECD average.

“This challenges everyone in New Zealand, including business interests - and currently the Welfare Working Group - to give particular consideration to the needs and rights of children when it makes its recommendations to the Government on welfare reform.”

“Any review of efficiency in government spending must put children’s wellbeing, their best interests and their right to a secure and healthy start to life at the centre” he said.  

UNICEF NZ supports the introduction of Child Impact Assessments to ensure that children are not negatively affected and that their rights are protected in any new or amended legislation.                     

  • Report Card 9 – The Children Left Behind, Innocenti Research Centre, Italy, December 2010

It can be downloaded from UNICEF’s NZ’s website,, from the story ‘The Children Left Behind’ on the front page.