I attended the Child Health and Wellbeing in New Zealand Academic and Political Forum this week. There were presentations on Maori and Pacific health, infectious diseases, infant and maternal mental health, primary care and policy approaches as well as an update on the Children’s Social Health Monitor (New Zealand).
There were several key themes I took from the day:
1. We are massively under-investing in our children
2. Our children are sicker and more at risk than children in any other country we like to compare ourselves to, and many that we see being at a much lower level of development like Turkey or the Czech Republic
3. The social determinants of health such as poverty, poor housing, over crowding and racism are responsible for this, rather than individual choices or in many cases the specifics of health care.
4. We’ve been saying this for a long time.
Then the major parliamentary political parties presented. Here’s my summary.
The Government: “Through bad economic times the vulnerable bear a disproportionate burden, but what is the long term cost of not fixing the economy (first)?” Bill English Basically, doesn’t disagree that the plight of children is terrible. He thinks that if we fix the economy we’ll have enough money to improve the situation. He also pointed to National’s core responses: the improved rates of immunisation, the home insulation scheme (forgetting that with their new policy to try to limit most State House tenancies to two years, they’ll be kicking people out of their insulated houses after two years) and the green paper. Their priorities are reducing child abuse (green paper) and changing delivery models, not putting in more money into policies aimed at children.
Labour: Annette King presented Labour’s policy platform to put children at the centre of policy making. This appeared to be primarily through mechanistic means. She outlined a range of very important and useful initiatives to do this:
1. to get cross party agreement for a multi year agenda for change;
2. start investment at maternal health;
3. establish a Minister for Children, set milestones and monitor for progress.
Maori Party: Rahui Katene – “Well the Maori Party has a distinctive difference to the other parties in this panel, in that we prefer not to talk about what we will do to you; but instead to spread the word that our most enduring solutions lie in the people themselves”.
Whanua ora and self determination http://www.maoriparty.org/index.php?pag=nw&id=1748&p=child-health-symposium-rahui-katene.html
United Future: a range of disparate measures without a coherent vision.
The Greens: The Greens policy is to urgently prioritise changing the social determinants of health by:
4. lifting 100,000 children out of poverty by 2014;
5. increasing the minimum wage: 2 of 5 households in poverty are working families;
6. extending the Training Incentive Allowance and the working for families tax credit to beneficiaries; and
7. setting a minimum standard for housing quality.
The Greens have wide ranging policy that includes early support, and joined up, culturally appropriate care, but also prioritises changing the social determinants to create a step change improvement for children.