Monday 8 March 2010

Policy Watch

NZCCSS Conference 2010 – only 10 Days for Early Bird Registrations!

Early Bird registrations close on 18th March so please ensure you register in time for this key sector event. Registration is online at (or click on the conference icon on this Policy Watch).

Welfare reform looming

The Dominion Post is reporting that “the number of unemployment-benefit recipients fell by 4224 in February – the single biggest drop since 2007. Unemployment benefit numbers fell 6 per cent, compared with a 1 per cent rise in the same month last year. Overall, the number of people on all benefit types dropped by 10,816 – more than half of whom were young people”. Whilst it encouraging to see benefit numbers fall because it suggests more people have found work, it’s disturbing when the Minister is quoted in the Dominion as saying “the fall in beneficiary numbers gave her more confidence to proceed with tougher-work test plans and other obligations under the Government welfare-reform package.” She has indicated that the government intends to introduce a bill to the House within the next few weeks that “will be a package of both incentives and obligations for people." The same article boasts that “In the last week of February, 38 per cent of those who visited Work and Income did not leave with a benefit.” It did not say 38 per cent left with a job so it’s obviously getting tough for new comers to get into the system. We will monitor any reforms closely.

Home Support Cuts Could Be “Straw That Breaks the Camel’s Back”

Presbyterian Support Otago CEO Gillian Bremner has spoken out about her concerns about how the Otago District Health Board is going about reductions to home support for older people receiving one and half hours or less in household management services. “I have a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that this is not the right way to go about looking after the most frail and vulnerable in our community” she said on TVNZ’s breakfast television. As DHBs around the country are seeking ways to manage within their tight budgets, reducing lower level home support that involves house cleaning and other household management tasks is being targeted as not the best use of health dollars.

In theory it sounds okay to look at reducing home cleaning support services for people who may actually be well enough to do this task themselves and DHBs refer to research evidence to support their approach. But as DHBs are experiencing now, how you go about assessing whether an older person needs this service is vital and what has been distressing many people is the way the changes are being communicated – or more to the point – NOT communicated to older people. Some DHBs such as Capital & Coast DHB and Hutt DHB have been reducing access to household support for new clients and reassessments of existing clients and the Otago/Southland and the Canterbury DHBs have announced publicly that they are doing this (Most public anger is being directed at the phone assessments being used by Canterbury DHB to assess existing home support clients where it appears that older people were not being made well enough aware that the call was a needs assessment or of their entitlement to request a full assessment when phone assessments are being carried out.)

Age Concern has also pointed out that older people are only entitled to receive household management assistance if they have a Community Services Card which means they are on very low incomes. Expecting them to pay for the services themselves is asking a lot - $30 – 40 per week out of a weekly income of only $300 per week is significant and the concern is that older people will try to do without (Listen to Ann Martin on Morning Report).

Disability Equipment & Modifications – new funding and changed eligibility

In a move to better manage costs and do better to help low income people with disabilities the Health Ministry has made changes to Equipment and Modification Services that are effective immediately from 3rd March 2010. Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia points out that taking away the fully-funded subsidy for working adults who do not have the Community Services Card removes the anomaly that saw highly paid people like doctors, judges and senior public servants receiving a taxpayer funded subsidy for a hearing aid costing up to $2,500 while beneficiaries were eligible for only $198.

• The subsidy for hearing aids has been increased to $500 for all ages (previously $198 for people aged under 65). Note that according to Age Concern hearing aid prices start at $500 for a very basic model.
• All adults with “complex needs” (e.g. sudden & severe onset of hearing loss) will receive full-funded hearing aids.
• Working people without Community Services cards who do not have severe hearing loss will no longer be eligible for a fully-funded hearing aids but will receive the $500 subsidy once every six years.
• A maximum limit for housing access modifications of $15,000 has been introduced, disabled people will be expected to cover any further costs above this limit themselves.

The details of the changes are on the Ministry of Health website.

ACC Amendments

As reported in the last issue of Policy Watch the ACC amendments were recently passed and we suspect many New Zealanders are unaware of what the changes actually mean. In short, the cost containment measures mean less people will be eligible for support and there will be less support on offer. Check out the Green MP Kevin Hague’s third reading speech against the ACC amendment bill. It closely aligns with the objections NZCCSS expressed to the Select Committee. Also see Kevin’s comments during the committee stage. Unfortunately the Bill got majority support at the Third Reading stage and will come into effect on 1 July 2010.

The National Foundation for the Deaf is urging people with damaged hearing to get their claims into ACC now before new changes make it more difficult. As of 1 July, a claimant must meet a new 6% hearing loss threshold. This is in addition to normal age related hearing loss assessment criteria. The General Manager of the National Foundation for the Deaf points out that “a significant group of people, especially the elderly, are going to suffer.” NZCCSS objected to the introduction of the 6% hearing loss threshold when we made our submission on the ACC amendments.

Is Rodger Douglas anti youth?

This is a question posed by the Green’s youngest MP Gareth Hughes in his discussion of the Minimum Wage (Mitigation of Youth Unemployment) Amendment Bill – a member Bill drafted by Douglas and recently selected from the Ballot. In short the Bill seeks to “end minimum wage parity between youth (15 – 17 years old) and all other workers by enabling the Governor-General by Order in Council to set minimum wage rates defined by reference to the age of workers”. In other words reintroduce youth rates.

Smart Metres – more control for consumers re electricity use?

The good Bill drawn from the Ballot on the same day as Rodger’s Minimum Wage Bill is Green MP David Clendon’s Smart Meters (Consumer Choice) Bill. It gives effect to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s recommendations to ensure all electricity meters have functionality that enables them to automatically control loads and to talk to smart appliances. It will also require meter installers to give consumers the choice to have real-time information about their electricity use and variable tariffs so they can make use of this function to minimise their electricity costs.

Two thirds NZ homes too cold

Any ways to minimising electricity costs need to be explored given the high numbers of people living in cold houses. A confidential report of July 2009 commissioned by ECCA and authored by Otago University Assoc Prof Bob Lloyd found that two thirds of kiwi homes are inadequately heated, and that $10b is needed for heating upgrades. The report was accessed by Radio NZ under the Official Information Act. In a Radio NZ interview Professor Lloyd points out the “the health risks go up as you get colder- so interventions need to be more invasion at lower temperatures”. Under the Warm Up NZ programme South Island people get thicker insulation but the clean heating subsidy is the same for everyone no matter where you live. Insulation alone won’t heat up homes. The scheme appears to be deficient in two respects – there was insufficient funding to provide insulation in walls or double glazing of windows – measures necessary to insulate homes in the coldest parts of the country. The clean heating subsidy of up to $1200 for community services card holders (and up to $500 for non card holders) means households need to find most the money themselves for the capital outlay. Heat pumps and approved wood burners cost $3,000 to $4000+. No wonder most NZ homes are still cold.

New research suggests healthy foods need to be discounted

A study led by the University of Auckland has found that price discounting on healthy foods is a more effective way to change behaviour than providing nutritional information. In a press release by the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, the study’s lead researcher points out that 40% of deaths in NZ are due to poor dietary habits and that the results of the study suggest pricing intervention policies should be considered rather than “relying exclusively on personal responsibility”. Interestingly the study discounted healthy foods for half their sample of shoppers by 12.5% (the equivalent to GST), while the other half received nutritional info. Healthier food purchases continued even after discounting had ended.

Experts Forum on Child Abuse report makes recommendations

The Dominion Post has recently reported on an Experts Forum on Child Abuse. Recommendations include, amongst other things, better prevention through support and education before birth; targeted home-based support for families who need it and inter-agency cooperation for families where a problem has been reported. The forum is part of a wider review the Minister is undertaking following findings that 1800 children who were subjected to abuse or neglect in 2008 were abused again within six months.

41 deaths caused by family members in NZ in 2009 – one child death every 23 days
The importance of finding ways to reduce our family violence statistics was highlighted in a press release about the first report by the Family Violence Death Review Committee (FVDRC) which found “at least 41 New Zealanders died at the hands of family members in 2009”. The review committee chair has indicated that it will review every case ‘to highlight crisis points where intervention may have been possible.’ The finding that a child is abused to death by family every 23 days is ‘just the tip of the iceberg’ according to the CEO of CPS. The National Collective of Women’s Refuge has commended the committee for its findings which it hopes will bring about better responses to family violence. A full copy of the report can we found on the FVDRC website.

Law Commission – Alcohol in Our Lives

The Law Commission’s Manager, Brigid Corcoran, has confirmed that submissions made to ‘Alcohol in Our Lives’ will begin to be published on their website very shortly. The Law Commission’s timing for submitting its report and findings to the Minister/Parliament is now the end of April. It is then Parliament/ the Minister who will publish and release the report, not the Law Commission itself.

Fresh Start - Innovation Fund applications

The Children, Young Persons and Their Families (Youth Courts Jurisdiction and Orders) Amendment Bill completed its third and final reading in Parliament at the end of February. This legislation opens up the Youth Court to 12 and 13 year olds (previously dealt with by the Family Court). It also introduces a new range of youth court orders (mentoring, parenting, drug and alcohol) and doubles the length of residential orders and supervision with activity orders. This bill is part of the government Fresh Start policy.
As part of the Fresh Start the government is seeking applications from community providers to run programmes with at risk youth aged between 12 and 16 years to address offending. They have a particular interest in Maori offending. Funding of up to $100,000 is available from the new Fresh Start Innovation Fund. The application form and guidelines are now available on the CYF website. Applications close 26 March.
If you need further assistance you can call the dedicated helpline 0800 884411 or email

Vulnerability Report

The next Vulnerability Report will be available on the NZCCSS website from Wednesday 10th March. The report covers the fourth quarter of 2009 and illustrates continuing high levels of need in the community, stretched community based resources and climbing unemployment. Unfortunately the early signs of an economic recovery have yet to be translated into an easing off in hardship.

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