Monday 3 May 2010

Policy Watch

The “Together We Can” NZCCSS Conference 2010 last week was an exciting time to reaffirm the vision for justice and compassion for older people as well as looking at the day to day realities of putting this into action. For example Dr Michael McCabe talked about the role of prophets, uncomfortable voices that help us to “break through” into new understandings of our world and our relationships. The most vulnerable are often the least visible and he shared some stories about those made invisible in our communities. Sandra Hills from Australia reminded us that our values must be central to both our strategic planning and our day-to-day decision making. She noted the Australian experience that social isolation is emerging as one of the leading issues for older people and the key role Christian social services can play to responding to this.

Conference presentations and reports will be uploaded onto our website as soon as they become available

Law Commission Final Report on Liquor Reform

The Law Commission has released its final report on the review of NZ’s Liquor Laws. Known as Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm, the report contains 153 recommendations to Government and was tabled in Parliament on 27 April 2010. Key recommendations include: the introduction of a new Alcohol Harm Reduction Act; raising the price of alcohol by an average of 10% through excise tax increases; regulating irresponsible promotions that encourage the excessive consumption, or purchase, of alcohol; returning the minimum purchase age for alcohol to 20; strengthening the rights and responsibilities of parents for the supply of alcohol to minors; and introducing national maximum closing hours for both on and off-licenses (4am and 10pm respectively). This report follows on from the Alcohol in Our Lives Issues Paper released in July 2009.

Under the influence

With uncanny timing the Salvation Army has just released its Under the Influence report. This report presents a summary of findings from 20 focus groups with people who have attended or who are attending Salvation Army addiction treatment programmes. The purpose of the focus groups was to learn more about people’s experiences with alcohol and their ideas for limiting the harm that alcohol causes in our society. The focus groups identified triggers for drinking, many of which could be addressed through the reforms suggested by the Law Commission in the Curbing the Harm report. Read more…

Liquor outlet density linked to crime – sinking lid policies needed?

A very recent study by the Population Studies Centre of Waikato University which compared the level of alcohol-related harm to the number of liquor outlets in the Manakau community found that for every new liquor outlet there is an increase in the number of police incidents. These findings are of no surprise to communities with numerous liquor outlets. More surprising is the lack of power the communities have in restricting the number of outlets. There is growing pressure to amend legislation and allow for restrictions, particularly in vulnerable communities. The sinking lid policy adopted by many Councils to address community concerns regarding the number of pokie machines in deprived neighbourhoods illustrates the effectiveness of the right policy frameworks. According to a press release last month the sinking lid policy in Manakau has led to the reduction in pokie machines from just over 2000 to 1482 since 2004.

Tobacco Increases Under Extraordinary Urgency

It was a surprise to most people to learn that Parliament voted through legislation (under Extraordinary Urgency) to increase the excise duty on cigarettes and roll-your-own products, effective immediately. The Dominion Post reports that nearly 20% of NZ adults smoke and that the rate of smoking is 40% for Maori. It’s a shame that increasing the excise duty to curb the harm of cigarettes doesn’t seem to apply when talking about curbing alcohol harm.

Welfare Reform

The National Government has introduced the Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill which contains an array of changes intended to make the welfare system fairer with ‘an unrelenting focus on work’. NZCCSS is drafting a submission in opposition to the Bill. Changes to the benefit system that seek to address perceptions that beneficiaries are unmotivated and lack a work ethic (such as work tests and sanctions) will fail because the bill does not recognise the link between macro economic conditions and benefit trends. Benefit numbers fall when the economy is buoyant. The answer lies in developing appropriate work opportunities for those who can realistically be expected to take on employment. Work needs to be well paid to cover the cost of being in work such as childcare, with suitable hours for people care responsibilities, and offer security of income. Part time work is particularly problematic as it tends to be casual, poorly paid and is very scarce during school hours.
We encourage others who are thinking about making a submission to look at the submission guide put together by the Greens, a background paper prepared by the CPAG and the 2002 DOL and MSD joint evaluation of the DPB and Widows Benefit Reforms of 1999.
Submissions close on 14 May.

Rest home care harder to access as criteria tightened

The Marlborough Express is reporting concerns that the Nelson Marlborough DHB is raising the bar on home-based support and rest home entry in an effort to contain a budget blowout. Ms McGrath, the Nelson-Marlborough organiser of the New Zealand Nurses' Organisation says the Government's funding of aged care services is simply failing to keep up with demand and warns of a ‘silver tsunami’. Grey Power have expressed similar concerns regarding access to rest-home care. Canterbury Grey Power vice-president Brian Christian said changes in aged-care provision were a "disaster waiting to happen". Concerns about budget cutbacks also apply to meals on wheels.

Most appeals re lost housework services for older people rejected

Most elderly who have appealed against losing their housework help are also losing their battle with the southern health boards. Of 89 appeals against the service cut that have been dealt with, just 18 had been successful in Otago and Southland. Read more…

Privatisation of ACC

The ACC Stocktake Committee has reported back to Government and unsurprisingly found merit in the idea of opening up the ACC Work Account to competition. What we don’t know is whether the report also recommends opening up other accounts to privatisation as well (there are 7 accounts in all). In the NZ Herald and on Radio NZ former ACC chair Ross Wilson has questioned that wisdom of such a move given the lack of evidence that private providers will offer a better performance. He cites the finding of PricewaterhouseCoopers evaluation of ACC in 2008 that found our model to be extremely successful and better than private insurer models.
Kevin Hague from the Greens suggests that “the Government’s plan to privatise ACC will fundamental undermine a world leading system that is fair for accident victims”. We share this concern.

Issues of what to tax…

The Dominion Post is reporting that Labour is looking at raising tax thresholds if it gets into power. Leader Phil Goff has signalled Labour's intention to reverse any change to the 38 cent tax rate, which National seems certain to lower to 33c in the Budget next month. But Mr Goff said yesterday that the threshold could kick in much higher than its present level of $70,000. Meanwhile the Greens have responded to the comments by Sam Morgan who has highlighted the unfairness of taxing workers but not capital. Sam sold Trademe for over $700m and paid no tax. Russell Norman Greens co-leader has commented “A comprehensive tax on all capital gains except for the family home is the fairest way to restore some balance to our tax system.” Perhaps the Labour Party should be looking at issues broader than personal tax levels.

Child Poverty and the Impact of the Recession

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner has released its autumn issue of their newsletter CHILDREN. With the very topical theme of child poverty, this issue explores the impact of the recession from the perspective of a wide range of contributors including NZCCSS.

Early Childhood Education funding to be cut

Bill English has signalled that there will be changes to the 20 ECE hours policy to manage an explosion in expenditure. We must remember that it was the National Government that expanded the scheme to include kohanga reo and playcentres in June 2009 and that this expansion was an election promise.

Part of the ‘exploding costs’ as Bill English describes it, is due to Labour’s policy of increasing the qualifications of early childhood providers. Prior to the introduction of 20 hours ECE NZ spent less than half the OECD average on early childhood spending (2009 Doing Better for Children report). The 20 hours scheme brought us more into alignment. Dorothy Scott, Foundation Chair and director of the Australian Centre for Child Protection has identified NZ as “at the forefront of nations seeking to strengthen early childhood education services in a comprehensive way”. Early childhood education, she argues, is one of the domains available for effective interventions with vulnerable families. (See Social Work Now April 2010 p 20). The British Marmot Review – Fair Society, Healthy Lives, recommended an increased investment is the early years – ‘the foundations for virtually every aspect of human development – physical, intellectual and emotional, are laid in early childhood – giving every child the best start in life is crucial to reducing health inequalities across the life course”. It would be a shame to see the current government return to under-investing in early childhood.

CPAG’s Post Budget Breakfast – May 21st

7.30am, School of Population Health, Tamaki Campus University of Auckland
CPAG’s annual Post-Budget Breakfast will this year feature two of CPAG’s own Executive. Susan St John, Associate Professor of Economics at University of Auckland dissects the budget. “Is this 1991 all over again? Were the welfare reforms just to soften us up? Where are the children in this budget?” Alan Johnson, Economist and Salvation Army social policy analyst will reframe poverty through the lens of the “deserving and the undeserving”. More info

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

Does the New Zealand welfare system need an overhaul? Will the Government’s proposed changes achieve reduced reliance on benefits, or only make things more difficult for beneficiaries? This conference will examine the main concerns in New Zealand’s welfare and social policies, and how they impact on the many varied demographic groups. Read more…

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