Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says that income adequacy, along with the consistent certainty of income, is key to ensuring that children’s nutritional needs are met for healthy brain development in their critical early years, and for ensuring that they are able to do well in their lives thereafter.
Food poverty is an evermore prevalent concern among families in Aotearoa, with charities such as the Auckland City Mission and the Salvation Army reporting unusually high demand for food parcel support, despite the recent income initiatives from the Government.
“The latest Ministry of Health published report Household Food Insecurity Among Children: New Zealand Health Survey provides worrying statistics for the depth of the problem,” says Professor Toni Ashton CPAG’s Health Economics advisor.
The report, which is based on 2015-16 data, found that “children in food insecure households had poorer parent-rated health status, poorer nutrition, higher rates of overweight or obesity, asthma and behavioural or developmental difficulties” while “parents of children in food insecure households reported higher rates of psychological and parenting stress, as well as poorer self-rated health status.”
“The stress and strain of being able to provide adequately for a family, while surviving on a very low-income places enormous pressure on parents, and often a well-balanced diet is sacrificed,” says Professor Ashton.
“A low-wage economy, alongside very low levels of welfare support is fuelling this crisis of food poverty. It is very hard for many families to survive despite their best efforts, even when they are in paid work.
“The mental health impacts of poor nutrition in a child’s early years as well as poor nutrition among pregnant mothers can be enormous. While it is commendable that the Government is committing to improving mental health services and access across the board, poverty has huge implications for mental health, and income problems should be addressed urgently.”
Dr Sarah Gerritsen, a research fellow at the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health welcomes the report, saying that it is the first New Zealand study to show the impact of food insecurity on children’s growth and development.
“It is deeply concerning that the Ministry of Health found that children living in food insecure households were more likely to not eat enough fruit and vegetables, skip breakfast, and to eat fast food and drink fizzy drinks, which may fill them up and are cheap but do not give their growing bodies the nutrients they need,” says Dr Gerritsen.
“We know good nutrition is essential for nearly every aspect of healthy child development, and our research found a range of steps the Government could take now to ensure New Zealand’s most vulnerable children have access to the food they need to thrive.
“Additionally, any policy that improves the amount of money families have to spend on food (such as increasing welfare payments and wages) would improve children’s nutrition, health and wellbeing.”
CPAG says many of our worst-off families, including those who are in receipt of a welfare benefit have not been helped nearly enough by recent welfare changes, which the organisation believes won’t go far enough toward ensuring that all children live in food secure households.
CPAG recommends that as an urgent response, the Government must provide all low-income families whose primary income is from a welfare benefit an additional $72.50 per week, in addition to significantly improving current benefits, by fixing the problems inherent in the Working for Families tax credit package, and urgently instating the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group, as set out in Whakamana Tāngata – Restoring Dignity to Social Security in New Zealand.
CPAG has recognised the importance of addressing food insecurity as a problem affecting too many children and adults in Aotearoa and will shortly be releasing a series of articles about food poverty written by professionals in fields including health economics, nutrition and human rights. The articles will be looking at the causes and consequences, as well as exploring various evidence-informed solutions that have worked at an international level.