In the lead up to Children’s Day in New Zealand on Sunday 1 March, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) Aotearoa NZ President Dr Jeff Brown says the wellbeing of children and their whānau must remain a priority for all of society, not only the government.
“Our children and young people – they are taonga. We need to nurture and treasure them”, said Dr Brown, who is a Paediatrician and Clinical Executive for Women, Children and Youth at Palmerston North Hospital.
“Children are like the rito – the small shoots – at the centre of harakeke, the flax plant. They can grow strong and thrive when they have older, mature roots surrounding them – their parents and whānau, and their communities”.
“We don’t see children as separate from their whānau”, said Dr Brown. “That’s why our advocacy campaign #MakingItTheNorm discusses family poverty not child poverty; family and whānau wellbeing not child wellbeing.
“The RACP wants to see changes in the language and phrasing used to describe these concepts, because children are not in insolation from their parents, whānau and others in their communities”.
“The wider implication of phrases like ‘child poverty’ is that poverty and hardship is somehow a choice made by adults, rather than the result of unjust structural and systemic inequities”.
The RACP’s #MakingItTheNorm Report Cards, released in December 2019 state that while progress is being made to address persistent inequities and improve whanau wellbeing, much more needed to be done, particularly in housing and in raising incomes.
“The housing crisis in Aotearoa is a human rights crisis. We need brave and bold policy change to address this. The RACP believes warm, dry and safe housing is a fundamental right, and we want healthy housing to be the norm in Aotearoa”, said Dr Brown.
The recent release of the child poverty statistics showed some murmurings of change in measures of poverty after housing costs, but at this stage it was difficult to draw conclusions.
“The increase in whānau experiencing material hardship is especially troubling”, said Dr Brown.
“This means that more and more children, young people, parents and caregivers are going without essentials, including fruits and vegetables, shoes and visits to the doctor”.
“Our Report Cards include recommendations, based on the actions of the coalition government, to make whānau wellbeing the norm. We want to see the Winter Energy Payment extended to low income whānau, and the increase of benefits in line with the recommendations from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group”.
While the government has a leadership role in enabling whānau to thrive, all of Aotearoa society has the mandate and ability to contribute through their networks and communities, Dr Brown said.
“This Children’s Day, the RACP is calling for whānau wellbeing to be the norm in Aotearoa, and encourages everyone to take action to nurture and strengthen families and communities – the harakeke that comprise our society.”
The RACP’s recommendations to make health equity the norm include:
• Healthy Housing: Building public housing as a matter of urgency
• Good Work: Encouraging greater uptake of the Living Wage, to make a difference to household incomes
• Whānau Wellbeing: Extend the Winter Energy Payment to whānau living on low incomes to reduce fuel poverty and risks of respiratory illnesses