Monday 19 April 2010

Policy Watch

“It is doubtful that children figure much in the welfare equation at all…The
value of children to and for society is lost with this narrow focus on paid
employment. So too is the value of parenting.” (Alan Johnson reflections on
welfare reform, In Touch, March-April 2010)

Welfare Working Group announced

The Minister for Social Development and Employment, Paula Bennett, recently announced the mandate and membership of the Welfare Working Group. The Minister has tasked the group with “developing a menu of practical options for creating a more sustainable and fair welfare system”. This is deemed necessary because the government considers long term benefit dependency unsustainable and assumes numbers will continue to increase ‘unabated’. Actually benefit numbers do not increase continuously but rather align with the expansion and contraction of the economy. We have seen this over the last 18 months with the unemployment benefit statistics. It’s also important not to accept assertions about long term dependency. For example, in the last quarter of 2009 only 16% of unemployment beneficiaries had been on the Unemployment Benefit continuously for more than a year and less than 1% had received the Unemployment Benefit for ten years or more. Approximately two thirds of DPB recipients received support for less than four years, reflecting childcare responsibilities.

The makeup of the Welfare Working Group reflects the government’s business type interests. It’s a bit alarming to see the absence of anyone with an interest in the welfare of those for whom work is not an option. Also notably absent is anyone with in-depth knowledge of the complexities of the benefit system. References to exploring employment insurance models are a worry. Catherine Delahunty from the Greens expresses some of her concerns about the makeup of the Welfare Working Group in a press release.

Whanau Ora Taskforce Report released

After a two month delay, the much talked about but little understood Whanau Ora report prepared by the Whanau Ora Taskforce was made public. On its release the government announced that Tariana Turia had been appointed the Minister responsible for the implementation of Whanau Ora. The Taskforce recommended the establishment of a Whanau Ora Fund “derived from relevant appropriations – including but not limited to, Votes Health, Education, Justice and Social Development.” In reality, the government has only agreed to use funding from the existing budgets of Health, Social Development and Maori Affairs. The Opposition have criticised the government for excluding Justice, Housing and Education from the funding mix.

Whanau Ora will have a very modest start. Effective from 1 July twenty NGOs will move to the new model and the focus will be on integrating the multiple government contracts they already hold. On Breakfast Minister Turia told Paul Henry that existing contracts were too prescriptive and lacked an outcomes focus. According to the Minister Whanau Ora delivery will be supported by action-research which will show the incremental changes happening in families very quickly. Mason Durie, at the launch of Whanau Ora said the model was “about addressing inequality”. Vernan Small from the Dominion Post has described the report was “pie in the sky” and lacking in nitty gritty detail. We have to wait till the May budget to get a better idea of the financial implications.

ACC claims for Sexual Abuse Counselling Plummet

Since National became the Government the number of people approved for Government funded sexual abuse counselling has fallen from nearly 300 a month to less than 12, according to Labour’s Lynne Pillay. These alarming figures were revealed when Pillay was questioning the Minister for ACC in Parliament on ACC’s new Sexual Abuse clinical guidelines. According to an article on the Labour website between July and November last year 70 percent of the processed claims were declined. Pillay is quoted “People who have survived sexual abuse need support, but instead they are getting the bureaucratic run around from the National Government.” Such figures are of huge concern, not only in terms of the impacts on the victims themselves, but also in terms of the wider impacts on their families.

Tax Reforms

As we await details of tax reforms in the May budget we brace ourselves for an increase in GST and hold on to the hope that compensation will be adequate for low income people. Most of us should have realised by now that the personal tax cuts will go to the highest earners. We urge everyone to critique the assertion that tax cuts are essential. We should also be critical of the need for an increase in GST. After-all, we often compare NZ with Australia and across the ditch GST is only 10% and hasn’t been included in the Henry Review on taxation.

I recently came across the following quote in a speech by Michael Cullen in December 1999 when the then Labour Government introduced legislation to increase the top personal tax rate from 33c to 39c. He said:

“A bit of extra tax collected from a section of society that can well afford to pay it will help us build the type of society we all want to live in. Everyone will benefit from this, including those who are being asked to contribute more.” He then goes on to say “even with a 39% top tax rate, NZ’s income tax rates are modest by international standards”.

My, how the political rhetoric has changed. We should keep in mind that 16 of the 30 OECD countries still have higher top marginal rates than NZ.

Make Auckland Super City Great for Children

The Children's Commissioner, Dr John Angus, continues his call for local government to make Auckland a great place for children. In a recent press release he outlines what actions could be taken “to take account of the wellbeing of children and young people”.

CYF New brochure and helpline

CYF have launched a new parents helpline and brochure called ‘When We Visit’. The brochure will be given to parents who are visited by Child, Youth and Family, and explains why they were visited, what happens next, how Child, Youth and Family works with families and explains the parents' rights. Parents can call the helpline 24 hours a day, where they will be able to talk to trained social workers about any worries or questions they have. The 24 hour phone line is 0508 ASK CYF (0508 275 293).

CYF Practice Centre

CYF have made available to the public their Practice Centre website. While designed primarily as a resource for staff, this website gives anyone wanting to understand CYF’s practice vision, policies and procedures an easy to understand overview. The service pathways will be useful for anyone trying to navigate through CYF different systems and includes care and protection (differential response and non differential response), youth justice, adoption and disabilities.

Improved access to housing research

All housing research is to be made available through one website portal. The Centre for Housing Research Aotearoa NZ (CHRANZ) has led the creation of this new website with support from Digital NZ. Visit

New agreement between MSD and Presbyterian Support re Family Works

Last week Presbyterian Support NZ signed an agreement with MSD regarding the national wide delivery of family support services via Family Works. In a press release Ray Smith, Deputy CE of MSD, said “The agreement sets out in plain English how we will streamline contracting with Presbyterian Support’s regional organisations, by providing an overarching framework to simplify compliance. It shifts the responsibilities on providers away from ticking boxes to the delivery of outcomes”. It also reflects the Ministry’s move to have more formal relationships with trusted NGOs.

Anne Else on Mining the land and Undermining the Children

Anne Else, a Wellington writer and social commentator, asks: “What do conservation estates and domestic purposes beneficiaries have in common? Both of them look after the country’s most valuable assets. But you wouldn’t know it from the way John Key and his government have been acting lately.” Intrigued? Read more…

An Anatomy of Inequality in the UK

“This report of the National Equality Panel in the UK shows clearly how inequality is cumulative over an individual’s lifetime and is carried from one generation to the next. But the report also shows that public policy intervention works. It has played a major role in halting the rise in inequality which was gaining ground in the 1980s. The National Equality Panel Report shows the key stages in people’s lives where public policy intervention is most important and most effective – during the pre-school years, at the transition from education to the workplace and re-entering the labour market after having children”(Excerpt from the Foreword). Perhaps there are lessons to be learnt for NZ which also has significant levels of inequality and all the social harm that accompanies this. As this is a large report we recommend the summary (which is 56 pages).

Age Concern NZ demands action on 15 rest home and home support key needs

"Based on our expert knowledge of older New Zealanders, we have a list of 10 basic requirements of rest home care that are not being met, and 5 basic questions about home-based support cuts.
"Age Concern New Zealand is calling on the Minister for Senior Citizens and Minister of Health to take urgent action on these 15 basic lacks in their portfolios," Age Concern New Zealand national president Liz Baxendine in a press release on 9 April.

Greens and Labour launch aged care investigation

The Green and Labour parties are getting together alongside Grey Power to hold a nationwide investigation into the state of aged care in New Zealand. Green Party aged care spokesperson Sue Kedgley and Labour's aged care spokesperson Winnie Laban share their thoughts in a press release about the task ahead of them of investigating the treatment and care the elderly are receiving.

DHB funding cuts impact on mental health services

The Greens have noted a trend in DHBs cutting back on mental health services as they prioritise their spending. People with mental health are already poorly serviced according to the Greens, with only 1 out of 21 DHBs meeting their mental health targets under the mental health blueprint. Read more…

Salvation Army Just Action Conference – 29-30 September, Manukau City

Registrations are now open for the Salvation Army’s Just Action Conference. With the theme of The Power to Change: ourselves…our neighbourhoods…our communities…our nation, this two day conference examines changing the nation neighbourhood by neighbourhood and changing the world through faith and politics. Register online at

Reviewing Welfare & Social Sector Policy Reform Conference – 21-22 June, Wellington Town Hall

Conferenz is organising a two day conference to discuss “creating a more effective welfare and social sector to reflect today’s issues”. The Hon Tariana Turia will give the key note address on the future of welfare and social policy in NZ. The background to Whanau Ora will also be explained. Topical presentations will be made such as “A helping hand or a kick in the pants? Different perspectives on unemployment and beneficiaries. Registrations are now open on the Conferenz website.

And because we all need some good news….

Teen mum programme successful

He Huarahi Tamariki programme for teen mums was set up in Wellington 15 years ago to help keep young pregnant women in the education system. It has proved so successful it has been replicated in 17 other areas around the country. Listen to a Radio NZ podcast on Teen mums

Family Courts better able to respond to child custody disputes

New streamlined Family Court processes have been introduced to help reduce high suicide rates amongst NZ families experiencing family breakups. The new early intervention process will mean cases with safety concerns for children will be ‘treated swiftly’ and parents in non urgent cases will be sent to counselling. Read more…

Benefit numbers on the decline

The Minister for Social Development and Employment, Paula Bennett, has reported a nearly 4000 drop in Unemployment Benefit numbers – a welcome relief after continuous increases in the last year. According to the Beehive press release overall benefit numbers decreased by 11,477. 2,500 Maori cancelled their benefit because they found work in March and over 1100 sole parents cancelled the DPB for the same reason. Whether the decline can be sustained is now the question. Seasonal work is soon to drop off. It will be interesting to see whether the decline in benefit numbers is reflected in the latest Household Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of 2010 due out on the Statistics NZ website at the end of April.

$325,000 boost to support those with dementia

A strategic alliance formed this month between leading dementia support organisation Alzheimers New Zealand and residential aged care provider Bupa aims to improve support for New Zealanders with dementia and their families. Read more…

Applications for school holiday programme funding extended

Community groups wanting to apply for the 2010/2011 Break-Away School Holiday Programme have been given a two-week extension to complete their applications. The new due date is now Friday April 30. Read more…

Māori Provider Development Scheme – funding round open

The 2010/11 Māori Provider Development Scheme (MPDS) funding round opened recently with the application form and guidelines available from the Ministry of Health website

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