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Introduction to The Children's Social Health Monitor
In New Zealand, there are currently large disparities in child health status, with Māori and Pacific children and those living in more deprived areas experiencing a disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality . These disparities were present even in the mid 2000s, when New Zealand experienced some of its lowest unemployment rates in recent decades.
New Zealand’s macroeconomic environment began to change in 2008 however, in the context of a larger global downturn, with the country officially entering a recession at the end of June 2008, after two consecutive quarters of negative growth. While New Zealand technically left the recession at the end of June 2009 (when quarterly growth reached +0.1% ), progress since then has been variable, with unemployment rates, and the number of children reliant on benefit recipients remaining higher than in the mid-2000s.
The Development of the Children's Social Health Monitor
During 2009, as economic conditions continued to deteriorate, a Working Group made up of health professionals from a range of organisations[a] formed, with a view to developing an indicator set to monitor the impact of the economic downturn on child wellbeing. The rationale was the concern that, as the downturn progressed and more families became reliant on Government assistance (e.g. unemployment benefits), that some of the adaptations that families might make in response to constrained financial resources (e.g. house downsizing / increasing the number of occupants to meet rent payments, deferring heating costs to pay for groceries) might result in unintended health consequences for children (e.g. increases in infectious and respiratory diseases, exposure to family conflict). It was thus hoped that if any deterioration in child wellbeing did occur, that it could be identified early, so that proactive policy responses could be put in place in a timely manner.
Rationale for Monitoring Child Health During a Recession
In addition to considering the individual indicators outlined above, it is also worthwhile considering the impact of previous economic crises on child health and the potential pathways via which such effects might occur, both in New Zealand and overseas. In addition, it is also important to consider the extent to which New Zealand children were exposed to low family incomes during the last major recession (the 1990s) and the effects this had on their living standards. Such reviews are valuable, as they provide insights into the possible impacts the current downturn might have on child health and wellbeing over the next 2-5 years.
The Children's Social Health Monitor Working Group gratefully acknowledges the support of: