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Child poverty hurts and needs everyone

Child poverty in New Zealand is back in the public spotlight following release of the 2018 Child Poverty Monitor report last week.

The report contains sobering numbers based on data from the Ministries of Health, Social Development and Education. One in five New Zealand children live in homes without sufficient healthy food or enough food at all. Children living in our country’s most disadvantaged communities are reportedly twice as likely to be hospitalised than those living in our advantaged communities.

Plainly child poverty extracts a heavy toll on those children who live it. It is they who experience going hungry, feeling sick, being cold and missing out. It is their families and caregivers who struggle to meet their basic needs each and every day. It is the happy childhood that we wish for each child living in New Zealand that these children miss.

But the toll of child poverty is also felt much more widely. It is borne in our nation’s medical facilities, our hospitals, our schools, our kindergartens and, sometimes regrettably, our criminal justice sector. Whether we realise it or not, child poverty impacts each of us in this country.

While hardly novel for me to say that child poverty does more than just extract a high toll on our state systems, I suspect at least some of us do not realise the huge price we pay as a country for it. That may be because some of us only experience a passing awareness of child poverty. We know it exists, we read and hear about it and may even read about it in the Child Poverty Monitor report, but we do not see it in our own street. We drive to work past suburbs with concentrated poverty and significant socio-economic challenges but we do not stop there. We have fleeting encounters with poorer workers who clean our office buildings but we know nothing of the detail of their lives.

We celebrate the success stories of children who beat the odds and overcome the obstacles that living in poverty creates to become productive adults but we seldom think about changing the odds for all children in poverty. Rather we live our busy and full lives with fleeting interest in reports or government policies aimed at lifting children out of poverty. We care but we are preoccupied. We want someone to do whatever it takes to help all children in our country out of poverty, so they reach their full potential, but that person is not us.

Yet we also know communities matters. Offering through online volunteer platforms like HelpTank [] to help and engage with groups already helping children living in poverty might provide useful additional support. Making donations of goods and money to such groups could also be really valuable. Pitching in, turning up, helping out, giving back is something we all can do. If enough of us do it, the 2019 Child Poverty Monitor report might even make for better reading.

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