18 May 2014

Child lobby sceptical of budget moves

5:51 am on 18 May 2014

A child lobby group says free doctors' visits and prescriptions will make little difference to reducing child poverty without also improving the incomes and the housing conditions of the very poor.

Child Poverty Action Group has been campaigning for free doctors visits for children for many years, and welcomed Thursday's budget announcement extending the scheme to under-13s.

But the group's health spokesperson, Dr Nikki Turner, said it was not enough by itself and an overarching strategy was needed.

"Without adequate income, without adequate warmth and housing, we're not going to (make) a lot of difference at this stage to our children's health."

From 1 July next year, GP visits and prescriptions will be free for children under 13, costing $90 million over three years. The Government says this will benefit more than 400,000 children, by including those aged between six and 12.

Youth advocate Ruby Grant said the free doctors visits and prescriptions should be extended to those under 18.

Also in the Budget's $493 million families package are increases to the parental tax credit and paid parental leave.

The Child Poverty Action Group said the family friendly way the budget had been presented was somewhat misleading, as in some of the package, particularly around early childhood education, there was little new money other than adjustments for inflation.

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic diocese of Auckland, a group that deals with people struggling to make ends meet, said the budget did not address the root causes of poverty.

Chairman Shane Coleman acknowledged some measures were being taken, such as the commitment of $20 to combat rheumatic fever, but said the Government had not properly addressed the growing gap between the rich and the poor.