'Picture of poverty' through children's eyes revealed in study

Source: 1News

New research through the eyes of children living in poverty has presented "a complicated picture” of how their lives are affected, according to one researcher.

A 2014 study saw 168 Wellington 12-year-olds wear a body camera for four days to record the world around them.

Now, researchers are looking through the recorded footage to understand the daily differences between children living in hardship and privilege.

Researcher and the director of the University of Otago's Health Promotion and Policy Research Unit, Louise Signal, told Breakfast they found the children living in hardship lacked much.

“[They] had less healthy food, they had less books, less play equipment, they didn’t have balls to play in the backyard with, they had less after-school activities, less opportunities to participate in sport," Signal said.

“They also lived in cold, damp, mouldy houses. There was no mould in any of the privileged children’s homes that we saw and they also lived in overcrowded houses.

“We found what was, really, a complicated picture of poverty impoverishing children in every aspect of their lives.”

Signal said a lot of their findings “would surprise a lot of adults to see this footage”.

“I think many of us live in middle-class homes with middle-class privilege … and have no idea about the extent of the poverty and the extent of which the multiple ways that it impacts and probably compounds on those children’s lives to make it so much more difficult for them to live long, healthy, productive lives, to really fulfil their potential.”

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) health spokesperson Professor Nikki Turner called the findings a "really hard message for us in New Zealand".

"We know poverty affects children but what this shows very graphically is the effect across so many dimensions of our kids’ lives.

“This is what we see in the frontline. It affects their physical health, it affects their emotional health. It affects their ability to play, to join hobbies. It affects their nutrition, it affects their housing - it affects their ability to actually participate in society.”

Turner said while there is international evidence of the wide scale problem of poverty, “I don’t think many of us in New Zealand are aware of the depth of the problem and how much it can affect these children’s lifelong trajectory”.

“This makes a difference to all of us in New Zealand because this lives with our children all their lives, the effect of poverty.

File picture.

“There’s a real urgency about this message and a hard one for us as a community.”

The overall measures indicating child poverty show it's trended downwards over the past three years. However indicators for children living in severe poverty have not changed.

Turner said while the CPAG has acknowledged the Government’s efforts to reduce poverty through a rise in benefits and the healthy homes initiative, the “depths of the problem for the children in the most severe poverty has not shifted much”.

“You’re talking, depending on your measure, more than 180,000 children; their life trajectory is altered by living in poverty,” she said.

“It’s a hard message for New Zealand at the moment; it’s been a tough two years, lots of people in New Zealand are struggling and yet as a country, for us this matters.

“We need all of us to recognise there’s an urgency - not just for this Government, but across all of our party policy - this is one of the highest priorities for New Zealand for us now and for our children into the future.

“This is a big number of children who will struggle to get occupational outcomes, to get educational outcomes, to get socially secure futures, good relationships, less mental health [concerns].

“It matters and it matters hugely for all of us. We cannot underestimate the depths of the problem.”

While the Government has promised “transformative” changes to alleviate child poverty, Turner believes we’re “not going hard and fast enough and we haven’t for a long time”.

“This is across all parties. If we as New Zealanders really understood the depths of the problem and the effect on our children long-term, there would be an urgent response across every party, to household incomes.

“These 180,000 more children living in the severest poverty is mattering right throughout their lives and it’s going to matter throughout their livelihood so it’s time for us as a country to act.

“I appreciate how hard this is when everyone else is struggling but this is a degree way further of struggling and it is not right to allow our children to live in such significant hardship at this point.”

Signal said while she agreed with Turner regarding the urgency of the problem, she was “very impressed with the work of the current Government”.

“I don’t think we’ve ever recovered from the 'mother of all budgets' that the National Government put into place in 1991 which slashed benefits. We’ve never recovered back to that level pre-1991."

She added that we "don't compare ourselves well" with countries such as Sweden, which aims to put children as their "number one policy priority because they want to build a flourishing society".

"They want to do what Dame Whena Cooper challenged us to do ... to take care of the children because as they grow, so do we."

In June National Party leader Christopher Luxon said a key way to try and combat child poverty is to tackle New Zealand's high inflation rate "head on".

"The economy needs to be strong, we need to enlarge it, we need to make it bigger and better and that’s the way we are ultimately able to solve these long term challenges," he said.