Wellington, June 4 NZPA - The Maori Party is calling on MPs across the political spectrum to work together on an action plan to tackle child poverty.
Co-leader Tariana Turia said today the need for this was made clear in the Public Health Advisory Committee's report, The Best Start in Life, tabled in Parliament yesterday.
"It is a serious wake up call for all politicians," Mrs Turia said.
"One finding that really got to me is that disease patterns among children in this country are closer to those of developing countries, and that health outcomes are low because gaps have widened between the health status of different groups in our communities over the past three decades."
Mrs Turia, an Associate Minister of Health and of Social Development, said there were more than 200,000 children living in poverty in New Zealand. Nearly half of them were Maori.
The report said children Maori, Pacific and low income families, and those whose parents were beneficiaries or prisoners, had worse health than other children.
The infant mortality rate in well-off neighbourhoods was comparable to the best performing countries such as Norway and Japan, while those in poorer areas had rates worse than all but two OECD countries -- Mexico and Turkey.
Income was one of the biggest influences on health.
"Differences in child wellbeing are more extreme in societies with greater income inequality and a higher percentage of children living in poverty," the report said.
A 2009 OECD report ranked New Zealand 29th out of 30 countries for child health and safety.
Child health was important because the first six years of a person's life shaped their adult life and "unhealthy children become unhealthy adults", the report said.
The gap between rich and poor families was attributed, in part, to low government early childhood spending -- less than half the OECD average.
The report recommended New Zealand create overarching legislation, a Children's Act, to replace current legislation which focused on single issues.
It also recommended a Children's Minister be created and an Office for Children be established to support the new minister.
A "whole-of-government approach", strengthened leadership and integrated services were needed to improve child health in New Zealand.
The Green Party was also alarmed by the report.
Co-leader Metiria Turei said last month's budget was going to make the situation worse -- a GST increase that would put pressure on low income families, tax cuts that would widen the gap between rich and poor, and funding cuts would increase the cost of early childhood education.