Wednesday 3 June 2009

Policy Watch

“It’s not roads that will secure New Zealand’s future it is our children” – said NZCCSS President Shaun Robinson commenting on this year’s Budget (read full media release). Benefit levels in this country are inadequate and as unemployment rises so will the number of families with children who live in poverty. NZCCSS argues that the investment in keeping children out of poverty is the best possible investment of scarce government funds. Our human infrastructure is more important than our highways and tunnels, and the social costs of neglecting our children and families are higher than those of neglecting our roads.

This Budget could be regarded as a “true to type” National budget as the traditional areas of interest received the most attention: criminal justice, police and education. In addition to these areas of interest the accent was on some selected infrastructure investment announcements and the overall state of the Government’s finances leading to the decisions to defer tax cuts and contributions to the NZ Superannuation Fund.

This is a brief summary of Budget announcements relevant to the social services sector. Further analysis of the implications and impact of this Budget on those most in need in this country will be the main focus of the next issue of our newsletter Kete Kupu (available later this month).


Maintaining entitlements to income support – This is not 1991 and there is no slashing of benefit entitlements. But there is also no new support, not even the relatively small $17m cost of the National Party election campaign promise to increase the allowable additional earnings for those on a benefit from the current $80 per week to $100.

Home insulation scheme $323m – How will this benefit the poorest households? The scheme will offer grants for two purposes – home insulation, and the installation of clean heating – on homes built before 2000. The subsidies will provide one third of the cost up to $1,300 for home insulation, and up to $500 for clean heating devices. Community service card holders receive up to $3,000 that will help get 180,000 of NZ’s 850,000 poorly insulated homes retrofitted. Some 2,700 jobs per year are expected to result over the four years of the scheme’s operation.

Whanau Social Assistance Services – Receive $32m over four years to build a network of whanau advocates in communities to liaise with community groups and Maori Wardens and to work with families experiencing hardship, to ensure they are getting all the assistance available to them.


Early Childhood Education
20 free hours of ECE is extended to kohanga reo and play centres. This is a welcome boost for these programmes that also have a strong community development element to them. The six-hour daily limit is also to be removed in 2011.

Fresh Start initiatives receive $81.5m over four years for dealing with our worst youth offenders aimed at extending the range of tools available to the youth justice system. This is the funding behind the so-called “Boot Camps” legislation which NZCCSS commented on in its submission on the Bill


The major area where this government seems to be putting rooves over people’s heads is by building prisons! $170m is going into 1,000 new prison beds and planning of even more. This compares with the $85m being invested in upgrading existing state houses and building 69 new state houses.

The Housing Innovation Fund receives an extra $20m over the next four years with the resources “targeted at providers who have a proven track record of helping people into affordable rental accommodation and home ownership”. Capacity building grants will no longer be available through the fund with all funding intended to be applied to actual building projects. According to the Housing NZ website, local authorities will be able to apply for funding but it will no longer be available for modernisation or reconfiguration of existing housing.

The Rural Housing Programme run by Housing NZ receives $12m over two years to continue this successful and important programme for renewing

Maori housing development projects receive a further $5m to complement the Rural Housing Programme.

The promised new Gateway Housing is not funded this year – but the Budget and Fiscal Economic Update estimates costs in future years of up to $96m. Land in Hobsonville, Tamaki, and Highbury Palmerston North have been identified October announcement of scheme expected.


Aged Residential Care funding
increased by $89.5m as was announced back in February to improve quality and supervision in aged residential care facilities and respite care for those being cared for by others at home. Respite care is receiving an additional $4.5m per year over the next four years and aged residential care an additional $18m per year.

Hospice funding increased $60m over four years to increase the publicly funded proportion to 70% of average hospice funding. This includes funding to address difficulties in accessing palliative care services that will include a national stocktake of services to be completed later in 2009.

Information for Unpaid Carers - $370,000 over four years is being allocated to producing information packs about entitlement to support and assistance to be sent to 20,000 unpaid family carers who are supporting family and whanau without payment.

Commitment to maintain NZ Superannuation at 66% of average wage. Given that past National Governments had been happy to let NZ Super slide down below this 66% level, it is a pleasing commitment from Government (even if it is only for the next three years).


Budget 2009 has allocated $1.2 million over three years to strengthen local networks and to give a voice to community groups through a "refreshed" Community Sector Taskforce.


Pathway to Partnership (P2P) funding maintained but will be remodelled and CPI increases for social services funded through the Ministry of Social Development are two headline commitments from the Government.. Some details were announced pre-Budget and were reported fully in the May issue of our newsletter Kete Kupu. Further information is still to come and will be reported in the next issue of Kete Kupu in late June.

Community Response Fund $40m – This fund is being set up to compensate social service agencies for increased demand for services and reduced funding from charitable trusts. No further details on this fund announced on 20th May by Minister Paula Bennett were announced on Budget day (see our latest Kete Kupu for more information about this).

In a pre-Budget media release NZCCSS welcomed the news of the Community Response Fund to support critical social services. This money will be available in 2009/10 and a it is likely that further funding will be available in 2010/11. See also:


More maternity funding for new parents

Health Minister Tony Ryall has announced the Government will spend an extra $103.5 million over four years to boost maternity services for parents. Given the recent baby boom and the important of early intervention support, this was welcome news. The NZ Medical Association has cautioned that more fundamental systems changes are needed to improve maternity services.

Credit Reforms (Responsible Lending) Bill

The Credit Reforms (Responsible Lending) Bill has been introduced by Labour’s Charles Chauvel and proposes the Reserve Bank governor would set the maximum interest rate lenders could charge, while lenders would be required to assess the borrower's ability to repay the loan. Mr Chauvel said the bill focused on low income earners who were being preyed on by those in the finance lending industry.

Sowing Seeds of Change – Te Puawaitanga O Te Kakano

Sowing Seeds of Change is the theme of this year’s Social Service Providers Aotearoa Inc. Conference. The conference will be in Whangarei from 17-18th September. Guest speakers include Paula Bennett (Minister for Social Development), Pita Sharples (Minister of Maori Affairs), Di Grennell (Amokura Family Violence Consortium) and Fiona Inkpen (Te Puna Whaiora Children’s Health Camps).

Policy Quarterly – Special Issue on Crime and Punishment

For anyone with an interest in criminal justice, the latest issue of Policy Quarterly is dedicated to this topic. Contributors include Judge Becroft, Cindy Kiro and Kim Workman (among others) who discuss youth justice systems, parent education and prison reintegration. Given the legislative changes in process (three strikes bill and Fresh Start) the issue is very topical.

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