Monday 10 August 2009

Policy Watch

Quote of the week:
“Each person who comes into contact with a child has an opportunity to listen, to observe, to notice, and if necessary to take action on behalf of that child”.
Paula Bennett, Minister for Social Development and Employment, Speech for the National Hui for Child Advocates (see item below).

Sharp Rise in Unemployment

The latest Household Labour Force Survey for the June quarter has just been released by Statistics New Zealand. Seasonally adjusted unemployment has risen to 6%, an increase of over 20%, bringing the number unemployed to 138,000. The Greens have commented that the government should be doing more to create jobs, and points to the increase in female unemployment and the shift from full time to part time hours – “Cutting hours …has an insidious impact on reducing incomes and quietly increasing poverty”, commented Sue Bradford, Green MP. Maori Party MP and Government Minister Tariana Turia, on the other hand, issued a media release calling for everyone to “band together to keep afloat “and to take advantage of the employment opportunities offers by the new youth package.

Job Opportunities package

This package worth $152 million package [links to PDF] and aims to create new work, education and training opportunities for unemployed young people in response to the much higher unemployment rate experienced by youth. Most commentators have been supportive of the package but criticize its size given the volume of young people in need of assistance. Some concern has also been raised regarding the danger of adult jobs being displaced. The Greens and NZ Adolescent Health and Development have raised concerns about the move to cut off financial support for the small number of 16-18 year olds who are eligible for Work and Income benefits. NZAAHD warns the sector “to prepare for a number of additional distressed young people seeking assistance, food parcels and accommodation support”. Our first Vulnerability Report highlighted the high level of youth unemployment so we are pleased with the overall direction of the package. We will monitor any impacts of this new package on the financial support currently available for vulnerable young people.

Tis the season for speeches…

A recent speech by Paula Bennett to the National Hui of Child Advocates shows that the Minister is very aware of the impact of the recession on children and families reinforcing many of the findings in our inaugural Vulnerability Report. Her comments on the pitfalls of full funding under the Pathways to Partnership funding model will be of interest to many social services as we wait to see what the ‘new model of funding and contracting will look like post the two year lifespan of the Community Response Fund.

Rahui Katene, the Maori Party MP for Te Tai Tonga gave a speech at a special Charity Action Event for Wellington Women’s Refuge and Te Whare Rokiroki Maori Women’s Refuge. She urged the audience to continue to speak out against injustices and reminded us that the success of the It’s Not Ok campaign (in terms of increased reporting) is not really success because it reflects “an ever increasing need to protect women and children”.

The book, Trust: A true story of women and gangs, that Rahui mentioned at the Refuge fundraiser sounded like a such a riveting read that I ordered a copy and received it within 24 hours! Written by Pip Desmond, it recounts her experiences in the late 1970s with the Aroha Trust, and tells the stories of women involved in gangs and what has happened to them since. Time permitting I’ll review this book in the next issue of Kete Kupu.

Rahui has been busy and on 30 June presented a petition to remove GST off food to the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee. The petition is in response to concerns regarding the social impacts of the rising cost of food on low income people. It’s unclear what will happen next. However the previous government dismissed a similar call because of the complexities and expense involved in administering such a policy. Council members of NZCCSS have taken a similar stand and believe there are better ways of addressing poverty e.g. making the In Work Tax Credit available to beneficiaries with dependent children and/or lifting abatement thresholds for beneficiaries allowing them to keep more of their earnings without their benefits being cut.

There has been a lot of commentary since the Chief Justice Sian Elias gave a speech to the Wellington Branch of the NZ Law Society Women in Law Committee. A link to the speech is included in an article by Gordon Campbell on Scoop with an excellent excerpt by a former gang leader. Also check out the comments by NZ Herald columnist Misa Tapu, Corrections Department CE Barry Mathews and Labour's Justice Spokesperson, Lianne Dalziel. Justice Minister Simon Power has largely dismissed the speech as not representing government policy. He has been widely quoted: “The government makes the law on behalf of New Zealanders who elect them judges take that law and apply it. That’s the end of the matter”. Unfortunately, the matter won’t end as the current sentencing policies are unaffordable and ineffective. Rethinking Crime and Punishment discusses in more depth the issues raised in the Chief Justices’ speech in their latest excellent newsletter RECAP

Benefit Changes

In May the Training Incentive Allowance (TIA) was restricted to study at NCEA level 3 or under. Under the ITA sole parents and invalid beneficiaries could claim up to $3862 for travel and course costs. The new restrictions mean beneficiaries studying at higher levels will not be entitled to assistance. Leah Haines, in an article in the NZ Herald explains how this new policy is affecting sole parent beneficiaries going to university. In what has become a cause celebre, MSD responded to the article by releasing the income details of the two women in the article, the release of which has lead to criticism from the Greens and others. The Privacy Commissioner, Marie Shroff has also commented.


On the last day of July the Greens Social Security (Benefit Review and Appeal Reform) Amendment Bill was selected from the ballot. According to the Green’s media release “Ms Bradford’s bill aims to provide a fair process for beneficiaries to challenge Work and Income decisions. It would replace MSD’s Benefit Review Committees with an independent judicial process based on natural justice. Claimants would get a decision within three months, and Medical Appeal Boards would be replaced by a new independent review system”. It will be interesting to see whether this Bill garners sufficient support to make it to Select Committee. We will monitor its progress.

A few days ago NZCCSS gave an oral presentation to the Social Services Select Committee on the Residential Tenancies Bill, supporting the parts of the bill which give greater legal protections to vulnerable tenants. Our submission [links to PDF] was well received. A report from the committee is due back to the government on October 5th.

Reports are also due back to government from select committee for other bills we have submitted on. These include a report on the 'Fresh Start' [links to PDF] and the 'Three Strikes' [links to PDF] legislation. Reports for both are due on 17 August. We will keep you informed of the recommendations within these reports.

Consultation documents

The Law Commission has released a whopping 296 page discussion document called Alcohol In Our Lives (Note there is also a short summary document). The aim of the report is to provide the public with a comprehensive description of our drinking patterns and outline various options to reform our liquor laws and promote a safer drinking culture. The Salvation Army has welcomed the discussion document and said “New Zealanders must now muster the courage to make changes on how alcohol is sold and consumed.” As many of our agencies work on a day to day basis with people harmed by alcohol we encourage our members to make a submission. Submissions can be made electronically on the Law Commission website and close on 30 October.

Preventing and Minimising Gambling Harm 2010–2016: A Draft Document for Consultation

The Ministry of Health is seeking written submissions on the Ministry’s Preventing and Minimising Gambling Harm 2010-2016: Consultation Document, which includes a six-year strategic plan 2010-2016, a three-year service plan 2010-2013, a problem gambling needs assessment, and problem gambling levy calculations over the 2010-2013 period. Submissions are due by 5.00pm 21 August.


Wellington based Wesley Community Action is hosting Dr Barry Duncan to give a Two Day interactive symposium called Turning Point. The symposium aims to teach participants techniques to achieve greater effectiveness in the Social Services. The conference will run from 14 and 15th September at the Westpac Trust Stadium in Wellington.

National Carers ConferenceTomorrow’s Care Today 24-25 September, Waipuna Events Centre, Auckland More info at Early bird registrations close at the end of August.

Strengths-based practice with at-risk children and families - Interventions to nurture hidden resilience across cultures and contexts. This is a two-day workshop for professionals on 12 – 13 October 2009 at Sorrento in the Park, One Tree Hill Domain, Royal Oak, Auckland. The workshop is aimed at professionals who work with high risk young people, offering a culturally sensitive model of intervention that nurtures young peoples hidden resiliencies. Sponsored by Barnardos, Social Workers Registration Board and Massey University, this workshop counts towards the SWRB's continuing professional development requirement.


Presbyterian Support Northern has a vacancy for an Auckland based Community Mission Liaison to work with parishes across the Upper North Island to develop community mission initiatives. Contact Michelle Edgecombe for more information by calling (09) 520 8611 or email for a copy of the role profile. Applications close 28 August.

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