Monday 17 May 2010

Policy Watch

Whanau Ora Funding

Whanau Ora Minister Tariana Turia has announced in a beehive press release $134.3 million for implementing Whanau Ora over four years. The money will be invested in whanau capacity and capability. Up to $20 million over four years will be spent on researching, evaluating and monitoring the implementation and results of Whanau Ora. NZCCSS responded to this announcement with our own media release: “The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) supports kaupapa Māori provision of social services and sees Whānau Ora as a necessary component of the way New Zealand families are supported. The Māori Party and their National Government partners are to be congratulated in developing a more holistic approach to supporting whānau. We hope that this approach is applied across the wider social services sector”.

Budgeting clients suffering from depression

On May 6th Radio NZ interviewed Darryl Evans, Chief Executive of the Mangere Family Budgeting Service. Staff at the budgeting service are reporting that Tax and levy increases making life tough for some. Over the past year their budget service has seen a 20-50% increase in people turning up suffering from mental health problems related to their financial stress. Such as been the increase that they have had to employ a counsellor. This trend started 18 months ago. Daryl Evans, the Chief Executive told Radio NZ that “the need for budget help, food parcels and now mental health counselling are at an all time high”. The Sallies have also noted an increase in the incidence of depression in clients.

Demand for food parcels still very high

The Salvation Army is reporting that since the recession officially began, in the first quarter of 2008, the number of Salvation Army food parcels distributed had nationally climbed 66 per cent to 51,527 in the year to March. Read more… The Sallies are also reporting ‘huge demand for budgeting services.

Cuts to Early Childhood Education (ECE)

Last week Bill English announced that there would be changes to the 20 ECE Hours policy to deal with the cost blowout in early childhood education. We don’t know what the changes will be and will find out more when the budget is announced on May 20. But other cuts in childcare subsidies have already been announced. The top income thresholds to access childcare subsidies under Working for Families are to be reduced affected approximately 11,000 families and saving the government an estimated $57m over three years. CTU president Helen Kelly has described the cut backs as ‘short sighted’ because “Reducing access to early childhood education will reduce the ability of mothers to be in the labour market and increase pressure on women and their families.”
It is likely that the government will try to make the 20 ECE hours policy more targeted. They want to shift some of the costs back on to parents as “untargeted policies drive up overall demand”. Treasury officials have advised ‘that those from more disadvantaged backgrounds have been crowded out” by the universal access of 20 ECE hours. However, the reason why access has not improved in the poorest communities is because the bulk of providers are private for profit organisations unwilling to base their centres in places where parents can’t afford to top up the subsidies. We await the Budget on May 20 for more information.

NZ Super not enough to live on – study

New Zealand Superannuation – A Measure of its Adequacy, a two-part study by Katikati volunteer John Logan, has been released jointly by Age Concern New Zealand and Grey Power.
Both organisations are so concerned at the findings that they have jointly forwarded the study to the Prime Minister and other MPs. The study finds that even the most minimal living costs add up to more than the current Super. Couples are the worst off, with the study reporting shortfalls of $30-plus each per week. From NZCCSS perspective, we wonder how the 345,000 dependent on main benefits are coping given that they are dependent on a much lower level of government support to live on. The report is also a reminder of the future fragility of Super given that many people supplement Super with private income. With lower levels of home ownership predicted, many older people will have to cover the cost of rent out of super payments when they retire.

Australian Tax changes

While most of us won’t be losing sleep about changes in the Australian tax system as a result of the Henry Review we do need to be aware that our government is very interested in what happens over the ditch. The Henry Review contains 138 recommendations, most of which have been parked. They will however be lowering their corporate tax rate to 28c, a move of interest to NZ as the government has said we need to be competitive. There may now be more pressure to announce a reduction in NZ corporate tax rate (currently 30c) in the Budget of May 20. The Australian’s will also be increasing their compulsory employee superannuation contributions from 9% to 12%. Given that employers also contribute generously to this scheme Australian’s retirement savings will be enviable. We have no such compulsory scheme here and given that National reduced the employer top-up of Kiwisaver from 4% to 2% it’s unlikely that a scheme similar to that in Australia would be adopted here.
If the PM decides to drop the corporate tax rate in NZ is beggars the question – how will the lost revenue be recouped? Reduced government spending means cuts in services and we are already seeing evidence of that in the DHB cuts to homehelp getting lots of publicity at the moment. We should also question whether corporate taxes need to be cut. Bill Bosenberg CTU economist and policy director makes a argues that we need to look deeper rather than having a knee jerk must match aussie response.

Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill

NZCCSS has made its submission in opposition to this bill. We will be asking the Select Committee when we make our oral submission what conditions are necessary to make ‘an unrelenting focus on work’ appropriate for people dependent on Unemployment Benefits, DPB, Sickness and Invalids Benefits. We are opposed to the introduction of mandatory part time work testing; we are concerned about the increased use of sanctions and the impact of this on families, we question the effectiveness of the amendments in reducing benefit numbers during a recession and the wisdom of developing a welfare policy that focuses on the individual rather than the wider context. NZCCSS has been invited to make an oral submission to the social services select committee on 19 May.

Rodney’s Local Government Bill goes to Select Committee

Rodney Hide’s Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill had its first reading in Parliament recently. The purpose of the Bill ostensibly is “to improve transparency, accountability, and financial management in local government.” On the face of it this sounds reasonable. The principles underlining it however are cap local authority spending and make council focus on core services only. There are a number of alarming changes in the bill. Whilst the bill promotes improving accountability it also seeks to ‘remove unnecessary consultation’. It also seeks to ‘"level[lin]g the playing field to better enable the private sector to deliver local authority services”. Sue Kegley from the commented that “this bill is all about further implementation of ACT’s agenda to reduce spending in local government by as much as possible, to corporatise and privatise as much of local government as possible, and to shrink democracy.” We share these concerns. The Bill has been sent to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee. Submissions close on 18 June.

Credit Reform (Responsible Lending) Bill

“Times have never been better for loan sharks. Unemployment is at record levels and more families are struggling to make ends meet. For most the economic recovery has yet to find its way to their pockets. The reality for many Kiwis is that losing a job coupled to rising food costs can often leave with a loan shark as the only alternative”, says Carol Beaumont, Labour MP. Beaumont will be introducing the Credit Reform (Responsible Lending) Bill into Parliament on 26 May. This bill seeks to cap interest rates and put the onus on fringe lenders to ensure their clients are in a position to manage repayments. The Bill could be voted out at First Reading stage. It currently has the support of the Maori Party, Labour Party and the Green Party. More info visit

Privatisation in a number of guises

Politically, privatisation is not a popular concept, having not delivered the promised rewards of more efficient services and lower prices in areas such as rail, electricity and the like. There are however, more subtle moves towards privatisation taking place. Examples include the clauses in the Rodney’s Law Government reforms with reduce the barriers to private sector involvement in the provision of water services aka privatisation in all but name. And then there’s the press release by the Minister of Police that ‘the Auckland Central Remand Prison at Mt Eden will be under private management next year after the Cabinet confirmed the move.’ Apparently ‘allowing private management of the two prisons would inject ideas and innovations into the corrections sector.’ And I thought they were just trying to save money. Changes in the Education Amendment Bill which recently had its third reading allow “the Education Secretary to appoint body corporates as managers of schools”. According to the Greens “The corporate provisions in the Bill need to be read in the context of National and ACT’s real agenda for education. Bill English has already indicated state schools are part of the PPP experiment,”

All things being equal – but do we care?

A recent NZ Listener has a cover article on inequality: New Zealanders once prided themselves on being an egalitarian society, but research shows we not only tolerate increasing income disparity but appear to welcome it.

In short the article explains how New Zealanders attitudes have changed with older generations placing more value on egalitarianism than younger generations. NZ society defines itself in much more individual terms without the sense of collective responsibility of the past. Researchers found in focus groups that “people have become more and more myopic. People have less and less opinion about things that don’t directly concern them”. A depressing observation given that inequality has increased in NZ as has our access to information about each other!

“Skills for Wellbeing, 2020” a proposed workforce development framework for social services and community building

Feedback is needed from people, organisations and networks interested in the wellbeing of people and communities on a 10-year strategy for the social services and community sector and workforce. All feedback is needed by 30 June 2010. The Discussion Document with links to online feedback forms can be downloaded at Social Services ITO Proud communities, proud people If you have any questions about this project, please contact the project manager, Jac Lynch,; Ph 0800 558 558

Families Commission Research Seminar - Thursday 3 June 2010 Wellington

Red letters – July 22-24 2010

Hear various speakers share their views on politics and money, evangelism and social justice in July. More info:

The Annual Wellington Post-Budget Breakfast

Co-hosted by the Public Health Association and Child Poverty Action Group Friday 21st May 2010- 7:15 am – 8.45 am St John’s Conference Centre - Cnr Willis and Dixon Streets -
Cost: $15.00 for PHA members and unwaged workers, $20.00 otherwise please pay by cash or cheque only on the day. Register by email to

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