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Unravelling the Costs of Poverty for Children Under 5 Years: An interview with John Pearce

By Reg Ponniah
© ChildForum 2012

addressing child povertyMore than 200,000 New Zealand children are suffering from lack of sufficient food, warm housing and adequate health care with the kids not reaching their potential in school, Think Tank Analytica says.

The children’s poor educational performance leads to higher risk of unemployment, more ill-health, attraction to alcohol and smoking and greater likelihood of involvement in crime, Analytica’s John Pearce told ChildForum.

Mr Pearce advocates that parents’ ability to interact with their children in the first five years is the most crucial in their proper all-round development. His view reflects the philosophy of ChildForum which has been in the forefront dispensing appropriate advice and support for the best care and education for young children through the assistance of parents, educators and ECE services and others.

How well parents interact with their children in those early years – while talking, listening, educating and caring for them - is the most important element in the child’s development, he says.

Mr Pearce has recently completed a two-year study entitled “An estimate of the national costs of Child Poverty in New Zealand”.  His study is an attempt to clarify the potential benefits in reducing child poverty in terms of education, justice, health and social welfare.

“Child poverty is a national economic issue deserving treatment as such, rather than being viewed - and largely addressed – only through the prism of moral and ethical considerations.

“Making policy choices is all about long term benefits and short term costs.”

Child poverty is an important but difficult problem and the Government has to wake up and devise a national strategy to stem the tide of the burgeoning problem.

“The economic cost of child poverty is large.  When considered in relation to its social consequences, it may be more important to New Zealand’s future than global warming and we can certainly do more to reduce poverty than reduce global warning.”  

The debate about child poverty is essentially a moral and ethical one but making a policy decision requires some estimation of costs and benefits, he points out.

“To the best of our knowledge, no comprehensive attempt has been made to estimate the national costs of child poverty in New Zealand.”

The study is a preliminary attempt to fill that gap, Mr Pearce says.

It defines child poverty as the relative lack of access to resources, and experiences, which have adverse effects on children’s later educational and personal development.  It focuses on those children most at risk of adverse consequences, and primarily, though not exclusively, on those in the lowest socio-economic sub-populations.

Mr Pearce also highlights the fact that for individuals, the consequences of poverty are more related to “Poverty of Experiences” because these are the factors that influence their future opportunities, rather than directly to low income.

“Income is only a surrogate measure of the likely poverty of experience and this is demonstrated because some children from poor families are very successful.”

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