Monday 16 November 2009

Policy Watch

“The challenge is to become rich in the things that count”
(Reflections post financial crisis, Kasy Chambers in Beyond Economics-Anglicare Australia)

Treasury recently released Challenges and Choices: NZ’s Long Term fiscal Statement (October 2009). In essence the report says that as a country we are spending more than we earn and policy changes are needed. The document looks at future choices over what the government buys, total spending and taxes. The challenge is to maintain (and improve) public services and our lifestyles while meeting the needs of an ageing population without raising taxes or continuing to growth debt.

It contains economic modelling 40 years into the future – unlikely to be accurate given no government predicted the global economic crisis one month before it happened! Additionally the Crown Financial Statement in 2006 projected surpluses for the next 25 years and yet by 2009 we are in deficit to the tune of $5.9b. But putting aside the numbers, the report raises some excellent issues for public debate and numerous suggestions on how to ‘manage future spending growth’ across health, welfare, education etc. Pushing out the retirement age of to 67, and increase labour force participation overall were suggestions for managing the costs of an ageing population. Age Concern has responded to this particular suggestion by pointing out that raising the age “ignores the situation of manual workers, Maori and Pacific people...After a lifetime of work and paying taxes they would receive less benefit if the Super age was raised because they tend to die earlier”. All of issues in this report need to be publicly debated. We agree with the sentiments expressed by Age Concern’s National President - “The question has to be asked: what sort of society do we want to have in the future?”

Call for better access to quality ECE may conflict with Treasury suggestions

A new report called Strengthening Community based early childhood education in Aotearoa NZ released on the NZEI website is calling for “every child to have access to early childhood education as of right, and for the government to take responsibility for planning a national network of services”. In a press release NZEI points out that although participation rates in ECE have risen, ‘those children who are most disadvantaged are those most likely to miss out’. The report recommends that expansion of free provision of early childhood education and a strengthening of community based provision of ECE services.

I’m wondering if the authors of this report have read the government’s Challenges and Choices Long Term Fiscal Statement (as discussed above). One of the options for ‘managing spending growth’ in the education services is to “reduce the quantity of publically funded education services by shifting more of the cost from the government to individual students and families”(p47). The labour governments ’20 free hours’ (Nats have since dropped the word ‘free’) is identified as a policy which shifted the costs of participation from parents to government (p45). Clearly there is pressure to reverse this shift. To be fair the report also recommends targeting government support to those who will benefit most. Hopefully they mean more help for the most disadvantaged community with poor participation rates.

Govt backtracks on Fruit in Schools Programme

The government is no longer to withdraw funding from the Fruit in Schools programme, a move welcomed by the NZ Nurses Organisation in a recent press release. Unfortunately they have withdrawn some of the funding from DHBs that allowed nurses to work alongside schools. One step forward and half a step backwards!

TV7’s Spotlight on the Economy – Inequality impacts on productivity

For those you who are missing TV7’s Spotlight on the Economy series – running through the month of November, you may want to check out the podcast from the first programme which looks at the first year of the national government. It was refreshing to hear from one of the speakers (Russell Norman) a message about the impact of inequality on economic growth and the need for policies to explicitly address this. As an example of inequality the high rates of pneumonia amongst some NZ children was mentioned. Pacific children has are over four time more likely to be admitted to hospital with pneumonia each year. NZ rates compare poorly internationally. Professor Asher points out in a CPAG press release on World Pneumonia Day (2 Nov) that “poverty is a key reason for the high rates of pneumonia admissions and deaths…. 1 in 5 NZ children live in a household under significant financial stress”. Let’s hope we keep hearing more about addressing inequality in the korero about the economic recovery.

Benefit Policies

Growing numbers of people receiving Sickness and Invalids Benefits are again the focus of government. Metiria Turei from the Greens has described the focus on invalids ‘as a sick policy’. Given that the numbers of unemployed people is continuing to grow and finding work is difficult even for the able-bodied, it seems unrealistic to be increasing pressure on Sickness and Invalids beneficiaries to rejoin the workforce. For the few that may be able to work, the work is unlikely to be there.

Housing in an Ageing Society Forum – Connecting housing, health and social outcomes for ageing New Zealanders

Scenarios for the future of housing for older people, experiences in retrofitting homes and the costs and benefits of using private housing as the “home base” for care of older people – these were some of the issues covered at a research forum on 9th November hosted by the Centre for Housing Research (CHRANZ). It brought together some of the latest research relating to older people and housing in the context of our ageing society. All the presentations are available online at

New publication – Gauntlet

Gauntlet is a new newsletter which opens the debate on a wide range of policy issues and ideas including local government, social welfare, global warming, foreign aid etc. It contains essay length articles to allow more in-depth analysis than currently offered through mainstream media. In the first issue Graham Howell explores the issue of the high effective marginal tax rate (100%) for unemployed people seeking part time work and suggest changing the abatement system or introducing a Universal Basic Income.

A Poverty Reduction Strategy for Nova Scotia - Sherri Torjman, November 2009

The Caledon Institute of Public Policy has released another excellent poverty reduction report. In December 2007, the Government of Nova Scotia passed Bill 94, An Act to Establish a Poverty Reduction Working Group in Nova Scotia. Based on the recommendations of the Working Group, the Government of Nova Scotia released on April 3, 2009 its Poverty Reduction Strategy entitled Preventing Poverty, Promoting Prosperity. The Strategy puts forward a framework for tackling the needs of persons living in and at risk of falling into poverty, while promoting prosperity for the province. Preventing Poverty, Promoting Prosperity is a multi-year plan with four main goals: enable and reward work, invest in households in need, focus on children, and coordinate and collaborate. The paper describes the various measures that have been undertaken or are being planned in order to achieve each of these goals. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned here from this initiative.

CPAG Child Poverty Post Hui Papers

The papers of the CPAG hui on child poverty Na Ta Tatou Rourou: with our basket, the children will prosper (held in Auckland on 7- 8 October 2009) are now available on the CPAG website

Giving and Getting

The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ has a new publication Giving & Getting. The booklet “offers a timely opportunity to really consider what we give and why, what our relationship to wealth and money is and what impact our giving makes. Copies can be downloaded from the PCANZ website and is one of a number of ‘resources for speaking out’.

United Way NZ Funding Grants

And on the topic of philanthropy United Way is calling for applications from community based human welfare charities operating in greater Auckland, Manawatu, Horowhenua, Marlborough, Tasman, Canterbury, Otago and Southland areas. Topics include helping children and youth succeed, strengthening and assisting families, supporting the vulnerable and elderly and promoting wellness, independence and self sufficiency. Applications can be completed online closing 31st December 2009. Further information on 09 3772544 or email

Anglicare publication on families and the GFC

Anglicare Australia has released an excellent ‘state of the family 2009’ report called Beyond Economics – families in the forefront. This is the 9th in a series of reports and contains a selection of thought provoking papers discussing the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). For example the CEO of Anglicare Tasmania pens a piece called After the GFC: Rethinking our subprime values. Many of the thoughts apply equally as well in the NZ context. Perhaps it should be recommended to Goldman Sachs who was recently quoted as saying “banks serve a social purpose and are doing God's work"!

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