Monday 13 July 2009

Policy Watch

First NZCCSS Vulnerability Report goes online

At midday on 9 July, NZCCSS released its first quarterly Vulnerability Report. The Vulnerability Report will actively monitor the level of economic and social hardship experienced by a growing number of New Zealanders. It brings together the most current government statistics in one place, and puts these alongside the latest snapshots and statistics from community based organisations. Although we are inundated with statistics in the media it can be surprisingly difficult to gather up all the pieces - so in that sense the Vulnerability Report is an attempt to put together the jigsaw of information. We will use the data in these reports to advocate for compassionate policy responses. We hope they are of use to our member agencies and to the wider public.

There has been a moderate flurry of media interest. Simon Collins, in a NZ Herald article discusses the increasing numbers of people seeking hardship assistance to make ends meet. In a Labour Party media release, Annette King cites the over 200,000 children living in hardship, as did the NZPA wired carried on the TVNZ website. The Child Poverty Action Group [links to PDF] welcomed the Vulnerability Report and the importance of monitoring the impact of the recession every quarter, as the impact will be long felt, even when economic conditions improve.

If you are involved in a helping agency and have a story or data to contribute to the next issue please contact me The Vulnerability Report and Background Information Sheet are available online at

Pressure points in welfare system exposed during recession

An increasing number of articles are emerging with stories that highlight some of the inequities and unintended consequences of the current system of welfare assistance. Unless you are directly impacted by the recession, having lost your job or have had your hours reduced, then you may not be aware of how low benefit payments are and how restrictive the rules are. Some of the issues include:
  1. > Eligibility rules for the benefits if your partner is working. You’re not entitled to a benefit if your other half earns more than $534 per week. The unintended consequence: you could be financially better off if you split up so one partner can keep earning and the other receive a benefit
  2. > The lack of uptake of benefits due to the above rule which hides the true unemployment level. Keith Rankin of Unitec (a co-author of Escaping the Welfare Mess [links to PDF]) cites MSD research that estimates that, because of the level of their partners earnings, only 32% of the unemployed in NZ go on the dole.
  3. > Inequities in policy principles, summed up in the following question “why am I classed as a single earner paying ACC and income tax when employed but classed as a couple when out of work?”
  4. > CPAG continues to call for the eligibility rules for In Work Tax Credit rules to be widened to include all low income families “to make sure all children are supported through the recession".
  5. > The replacement of the Special Benefit with the more restrictive Temporary Additional Support on 1 April 2006 has increased hardship for poorest families, as explained in a Wellington People’s Centre paper. The Vulnerability Report shows increasing numbers of people seeking this assistance.
> Check out more comments reported in the NZ Herald and from the Greens and CPAG

Electricity – Smart Metres debate

We take an interest in the policies and debates related to the electricity sector where it looks like the issue could contribute to making electricity more affordable for those on low incomes. Recently there have been a number of media articles on smart metres and whether the government should take a role in the roll out of this new technology because the market if left to its own devices may very well introduce less-than-smart metres – ie, metres that are helpful to retailers but not to consumers. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright is recommending that the government should “take a more hands on approach”. The Greens are calling for the government to consider the regulation of smart metres.

B4 School Checks looking shaky

Many people may recall the previous government's B4 School Check policy in which all 4 year olds were to be assessed “to identify and address any health, behavioural, social or developmental concerns” that could affect learning. DHBs nationwide were to start delivering this programme from September 2008. According to media reports, it appears the $9m scheme is in jeopardy with Tony Ryall commenting that DHBs who have not delivered the service may have to repay the funding. It appears only 11% of 4 year olds have received this check. A number of health professionals have said the programme’s implementation was rushed and shambolic. It would be a shame if the B4 Schools Checks initiative was canned before it is fully implemented and can prove itself. If the checks led to early detection of problems and early intervention, then this has to be beneficial for New Zealand four year olds.

MSD releases Statistical Report 2008

MSD has released its latest Statistical Report which provides detailed data on benefit trends over the last five years from 1 July 2003, including main benefits, hardship assistance and supplementary assistance. Be aware that there is a limited print run for this 188 page document and it may be easier/quickest to download the sections you are interested in.


Advice for NGOs on how to respond to the Flu Pandemic

Family and Community Services, in consultation with the NGO community and the Ministry of Health, has prepared a resource that provides organisations with practical information about how to respond to an influenza pandemic both individually and from an organisational perspective.

Legislative Monitoring

NZCCSS has made a submission on the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill and a copy will be available on our website once the Select Committee has contacted us to make an oral submission.

Sue Bradford has drafted the Citizens Initiated Referenda Bill, which if adopted would allow the Clerk of the House to reject ambiguous or leading questions, as is the case with the current referendum on smacking. Even if it is not selected via Ballot the government has indicated an interest in picking it up.

Labour MP Sue Maroney has drafted a members bill proposing to increase paid parental leave from 14 weeks to 26 weeks. It has yet to be drawn from the Ballot box. The Families Commission has lobbied for increasing paid parental leave. New Zealand’s current provisions are minimal compared to the support provided by many other countries – not all of whom are wealthy countries.

Social Justice Research

Heather Lyall, a student in her last year of a Social Work Masters (Applied) at Massey University is carrying out research on how social workers in New Zealand perceive their role and function in relation to a social justice perspective. Heather is looking for social workers willing to participate in a 1 hour face-to-face interview. If you are interested in being part of this research contact Heather by email to or call on (021) 0401817.


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