Thursday 20 December 2012

Policy Watch

Ngā mihi o te Kirihimete me Te Tau Hou

A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all Policy Watchers.  May we all be able to enjoy giving and receiving warmth and kindness throughout the Christmas period.
Best wishes from NZCCSS

Christmas Gifts from NZCCSS

NZCCSS offers a North Island one and a South Island one in a balanced approach toward gift giving.  Manurewa Young People and the Potential for Service Collaborations looks at the lived experience of some of the young people in Manurewa and the professionals who support them.  Interested in learning more about gaps in service provision and collaboration handy hints?  Well, this one is for you.

Gift number two is for the Cantabrians.  The Canterbury Report is about how the services are doing, what they observe, mixed in with official data for the 2010, 2011, and 2012 June years. We sincerely hope the report both helps Cantabrians advocate for themselves and the rest of us (including the politicians) to have a greater understanding of how things are, and what might help. It goes online on Friday 21 December.

 Policy Watcher Santa Sack

NZCCSS  hopes Kiwi children are able to enjoy some Christmas cheer and the odd Christmas gift or three.  In the 2012 Policy Santa Sack are:

1. A comprehensive statement opposing family violence from heads of a variety of faiths in Aotearoa New Zealand.

2. The Children’s Social Health Monitor  produced annually by a working group with expertise in child health.  It’s a good news / bad news story.  Increased immunisations have had a positive effect with fewer children admitted to hospital last year for pneumonia and bronchiolitis (both linked to poverty).  However, overcrowding in poor quality housing is bad news with a rise in the number of children admitted for skin infections and rheumatic fever.   Children's Commissioner  Russell Wills says these illnesses are linked directly to people living in cold, cramped homes.

3. Te Ohonga Ake looks at the health status of Māori infants, children and young people using a range of routinely collected data sources. On the plus side is fewer  hospital admissions for meningococcal disease, reduced infant mortality and reduced death for some types of injury.  On the minus side is acute rheumatic fever, serious skin infections, and asthma related hospitalisations.  Hospital admissions and avoidable deaths are much higher for Māori than for non-Māori non-Pacific children and young people.

4. The Experts Group on Child Poverty Report ably put together by Jonathan Boston and Tracey McIntosh for the Children’s Commissioner is a generous contribution to the reducing child poverty debate.  The group produced a summary of feedback received both from both the grown-ups and from the children and young people.  The result is a report with 78 useful suggestions including quick, cheap and relatively easy ones e.g. a "warrant of fitness" for all rental homes, ensuring they meet minimum standards for health and safety; Government to work with finance sector to provide zero-interest or cheap loans for struggling families; an expanded food-in-schools programme for low-decile primary and immediate schools; increased focus on keeping young parents in education; and , creating community hubs as a one-stop shop for support services.

On the harder front are: reviewing all child benefits and refocusing them on child welfare; creating a new universal child payment for all children under 5; support for older children would be targeted, based on income; increasing the number of social houses by at least 2000 a year for the next eight years; and, extending free doctor visits over time to cover all children under 18.

 “The report is adamant that short and long term plans are necessary to stem the $6 to $8 billion cost of child poverty every year”.

5. The Ministry of Health child health report based on the New Zealand Health Survey.   ‘The Health of New Zealand Children 2011/12’ shows almost all children (98%) are in good health, according to their parent but the child obesity rate has increased since 2006/07. One in five children had an unmet need for primary health care in the past year, and children with poorer health and more unmet need for health care include: Māori, Pacific, and children living in more deprived areas.

6. Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand  is leading  the Expert Advisory Group on Information Security.   The Group is to oversee implementation of the Vulnerable Kids Information System (ViKi) and new Risk Predictor Tool which aim to better protect children from abuse and neglect.

7. A photography exhibition featuring children from Christchurch’s own perspectives on how the earthquakes have changed their lives and communities.  This  exhibition organised by UNICEF NZ is at Christchurch Museum and runs until Sunday, 27 January.

8. A new contestable fund to improve youth mental health information for parents, families and friends.  One million dollars over four years (250,000 per yearr) is going into information for Parents, Families and Friends about youth mental health for families.  The fund is available to “community organisations capable of developing and implementing a comprehensive approach to delivering better quality and more accessible information on youth mental health issues.”   Applications close on 8 February 2013, with the successful applicant(s) expected to be announced in April.  Further information including application criteria is available at:

9. Rising to the Challenge - The  new Five-Year Mental Health And Addiction Plan has been released focusing on ‘treating more people in primary care, fewer delays in accessing services and better coordination between, a greater emphasis on youth mental health and intervening earlier to prevent more serious problems later in life, improving services and outcomes for people with high needs, and service providers working alongside and in partnership with individuals using the services and their families and whānau.’

10. Finally, the bad fairy present:  the new liquor laws which will not do much to help improve life.  They passed in Parliament on December 11 and do restrict alcohol displays and advertising in supermarkets and require parental consent for allowing minors to drink.   But they fall well short of the effective measures needed to help New Zealand tackle the many problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption, says the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA).

How Exciting is the Sack?

There is always a mixed reaction to gifts depending whether it was one of those things you wrote to Santa about or not.  Recipients of the Child Poverty Experts Group report reacted as follows:

Bill English (Minister of Finance) -  throwing more money at child poverty would not necessarily solve it. "Too often, governments have, for political reasons, persisted with programmes that have been ineffective and expensive."

Paula Bennett (Minister of Social Development) (don’t expect any measures for the whole community) “It is those on the lowest-incomes who are in the greatest need so any new spending needs to be tightly targeted.”

Labour “Child poverty will not be addressed until this Government is willing to talk about incomes. National has done nothing to lift wages, decrease unemployment, or stem growing inequality …

Greens "We support a universal child payment as the best and fairest way to ensure that all children, not just some, have the opportunity to have a good life, and a fair, bright and prosperous future.

Every Child Counts: “Clearly, political leadership and courage is needed to address poverty and deprivation. We encourage the Ministerial Committee on Poverty, and all Cabinet Ministers to recognise that leaving child poverty unchecked is unsustainable and unwise. Children must be a top priority. The EAG has set out a plan. We urge the Government to respond positively to the advice provided, and urgently take steps to implement it.

Unicef: UNICEF NZ is fully supportive of all the recommendations of the EAG Report to Government, and particularly of legislation to protect a plan to reduce child poverty from any political change of direction.

Child Poverty Action Group “The critical issue is income and support for families with children, especially families relying on social security. The effects of poverty can stay with a child for the rest of their lives.  It is high time for us to act to meet the needs of our most deprived children.”

Ririki:  “Of the EAG’s specific recommendations for Maori children we are pleased to see support for successful Maori educational models and initiatives … “We also support the development of Maori-centric data which the report recommends. At the moment we measure the well-being of Maori children by comparing them to other groups of children. While this type of comparative analysis provides some measurement, it assumes that all children must meet the same standards.

The PSA:  would like to see the "government take concrete steps which would actually require employers to provide family friendly workplaces and have solid policy around it.”

The new liquor laws have been welcomed by the Brewers Association which is a sure sign they are not going to make much of a dent in Aotearoa’s alcohol related problems.  In a further indication, Alcohol Action NZ is particularly vituperative declaring “history will judge those MPs who willfully planned and led the wasted opportunity to do something to help the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders being harmed by weak alcohol laws. Their failure is seen in the Bill  of particular note: Key, Dunne, Borrows, Joyce, Collins and Power”.  Judith Collins (Justice Minister) sees the law as balanced, announcing she is particularly pleased we have achieved a sensible balance between curbing the considerable harm alcohol abuse can cause, without unfairly affecting the majority of those who are responsible drinkers.”  Abbreviated details of what is in the legislation are here

Christmas Nibbles for Policy Addicts

Policy Addicts might want to look at the following items we’re not sure we can say something sensible about just yet.  Better still, trawl through them and let us know what you think.

1.  The new refugee resettlement strategy which has tell-tale links with government’s public service goals; e.g. “Increasing the number of refugees in paid employment and reducing the number receiving unemployment-related benefits,’ and “two-thirds of refugee school leavers to be achieving NCEA Level 2 after five years in the New Zealand education system.”

2. Details about the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill which has passed its first reading.  It includes extending the definition of domestic violence in the Domestic Violence Act to include ‘economic abuse’.  Submissions are due on 13 February.

3. The State Sector and Public Finance Reform Bill, which seeks to amend legislation governing the management of the State sector and public finances in New Zealand.  There is  a rather worrying comment from Trevor Mallard:  “I think the Finance and Expenditure Committee will have to look really carefully at the question of whether powers delegated to chief executives by this Parliament should, in fact, be sub-delegated to persons outside the Public Service.”  Submissions are due 7 February 

Mary and Joseph find Stable Full and Out of their League

Home ownership has fallen to a new low and families are increasingly forced  into unaffordable renting. Median house prices reached $383,250 in October.  Auckland’s median house price reached a new record of $540,000, according to the Real Estate Institute.

Housing New Zealand still appears to be working hard to reduce numbers in HNZC houses and has suspended 75 former tenants from applying for state houses since the introduction of its suspensions policy  on 30 November 2011.

Mary and Joseph really need to find a place to live in a good area.  People living in the most deprived areas have higher levels of smoking (28%) and obesity (40%) than the national averages.  Living in one of the most deprived areas, Mary and Joseph will be risking higher levels of psychological distress, ischaemic heart disease, diabetes and chronic pain.  These higher rates are not explained by differences in the ethnic, age or sex structure of the population.  Should Mary and Joseph end up in a boarding house, there is a new website to help them know their rights.

Job ideas for Work and Income

No doubt Work and Income will be looking around for jobs which pay enough to get people off benefits.  We have a few suggestions.

Consulting work for the Green and White papers for Vulnerable Children seem to pay well.  Going rates are as follows:
- Almost $200,000 paid to two recruitment consultants
- $9,000 paid to Saatchi and Saatchi for advertising
- Communications adviser ($9,500 for two months work)
- Copywriter ($16,905 for two months work)
- Meeting facilitation ($50,000 two consultants)

Government consultancy
- Consultancy – general - $21,927,000 expected for the 2102 /2013 year

Grandma’s coming to stay

Premium Charging in Rest Homes - what are your thoughts?

The Government is seeking public feedback on an issue that has been sitting with the Minister of Health for some time. How to manage the pressure from rest home providers wanting to offer rest home places to older people at a “premium rate” above the amount the government is willing to pay through the aged residential subsidy.

The Minister Hon Jo Goodhew says: “Allowing some premium-only facilities will give New Zealanders increased choice and give providers greater freedom to design and operate their facilities.  It will also support continued private sector investment in aged residential care, particularly in higher cost areas. To balance this, safeguards are proposed to ensure aged residential care remains affordable and available to all older New Zealanders.  Sufficient standard, or no extra charge, rooms will still be required to be available in each region.”

Government wishes to allow some operators to offer only premium rooms, meaning that there would be no “standard” rooms available at the subsidised rate. There are proposed ways to ensure that sufficient standard rooms will be available and the question NZCCSS will be asking about these proposals is, whether the more than 50% of older people with little or no extra income or wealth from which they can pay “premium” charges, will still have equitable access to good quality aged care? The consultation document is online at the Ministry of Health website .
If you have comments to make that you would like NZCCSS to consider in its submission on the document, please contact

Will there be nurses at the rest home?

Government may have a few challenges staffing rest homes according to a recent Nurses Organisation survey in the Waikato.   Out of 1,239 “nurse entry to practice (NETP) applicants”, only 20 wanted to work with older persons.  Just seven wanted to work in aged residential care, and 13 wanted to work in the health of older persons at the DHB.

The rest homes may be short of nurses, but the audits are likely to be ‘more streamlined’.  Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew has announced streamlined auditing of rest homes, saving up to six hours for each audit, will be introduced from 1 January 2013.  The idea is audits focus more on services directly affecting residents, produce more useful information, and save time.
Audit results for certified rest homes in New Zealand are publicly available here

Prescription charges increase

Grandma (and the rest of us) will be paying more for prescription items from 1 January 2013.  We will now all be paying $5 rather than $3 per subsidised item.  People receiving a Disability Allowance for prescription costs,  will need to contact Senior Services (phone 0800 552 002) or Work and Income (phone 0800 559 009) when they are charged the increased amount. The person’s Disability Allowance "will be reassessed to ensure they are receiving the correct amount."  More information on the prescription charge change is available on the Ministry of Health website

Last year, 8% of adults did not collect one or more prescription items because of the cost.  This is about 267,000 adults.

Holiday Reading for Policy Watchers

Lying in the sun and just itching to read a bit of policy stuff?  Well here are some of the top reads for Christmas 2012:

The new Ministry of Health information tool includes health info by District Health Board region including rest home audits, health funding, information and contact details for general practices, dentists, midwives and other professionals in each region.

The Whānau Ora Research website including Whānau Ora research, toolkits, resources and researchers as well as whānau success stories.  The Tangata Whenua Caucus of Community Research is developing the website in partnership with Te Puni Kōkiri.

Computer reading a bit tricky in the sun?  No worries with NZCCSS’s list of documents you can read lying down:

Families Commission Quadrilogy

1.Families Commission document - Disabled parents: Diversity, experiences, and support needs

2. Families commission welfare reform submission 

3. Families Commission – Teen Births fact sheet

4. Pacific Families and Problem Debt, examines the impact high levels of debt are having on Pacific families and communities.  there is a significant imbalance between affordability and cultural practice which often carries with it the obligation to give money resulting in reoccurring and unaffordable debt levels for some Pacific families, and this is holding Pacific communities back.  The launch was held at the Samoan Methodist Church with the support of local church leaders.

Thanks to the Public Health Association for pointing out the following good reads:

Pacific people in the Waitemata: Pacific population profile and health status 2011

Metro-Auckland Pacific population health profile

Increase in USA suicide rates with recession

Other reads

Bob Stephens and Charles Waldegrave on the poverty debate 

Theology and Values in a secular society by Andrew Bradstock, Otago University

Reducing Christmas Stress

Chinese mental health info

Doing the whānau thing at Christmas

Advice from  the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

Turn off our cell phones, computers and iPads for just one day this Christmas and experience the simple joys of life by practicing the Maori value of kanohi ki te kanohi "face to face quality time with the people closest to you.”  ‘ The pervasive pre-Christmas advertising pressures people to believe that the person who has the good life has an iPhone or iPad, good looks and figure, white teeth, great food and expensive wine, a fast car, and earnings of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.’   "Yet, when we talk about a good person these sorts of things are never mentioned, we do not talk about what a person owns, we talk of how they act, and whether they are kind and loving."

Christmas Cheer Department

Nice surprise packages under the tree include:

Waikato Hospital staff and some patients collection of  presents  under a giant Christmas ‘remembrance’ tree covered in  decorations bought by hospital staff in memory of loved ones.   Gifts and money raised from decorations were presented to the Salvation Army Hamilton city community ministries.  The Salvation Army are distributing the gifts among 250 families.

Sometimes we get the wrong idea about youth.  There are lots of young people keen to volunteer to do tasks helpful to our community.

Free community meal a lovely piece of inspiring good news

Redundant worker Kimberley Inu is getting  more than a month's backpay of the unemployment benefit after Work and Income mistakenly told her she could not get a benefit  until she had used up her redundancy pay.

Essential items fall in price
In the year to October 2012, prices for the grocery food subgroup decreased 2.7 percent.
The main decreases came from:
Fresh milk (down 9.5 percent)
 Butter (down 28 percent)
 Bread (down 3.8 percent)
Cheese (down 6.8 percent).
The last month fresh milk prices were lower was December 2009, when they were 5.0 percent lower than in October 2012.

Auditor General says local government ok
The Auditor General has given the overall thumbs up to local government spending in the latest review of Long-term Plans. She concludes that the arrangements to finances council plans are generally fit for purpose rather than imprudent. It is a reminder that the debate about local government reform is political and ideological, not about evidence of widespread cost explosions or inefficiencies.

Zero interest loans
Nga Tangata Microfinance Trust is lending money at zero interest rates to low-income families in a pilot project which might start to reduce the loan sharks customers.  The scheme  is inspired by “an Australian scheme run by Good Shepherd Microfinance, a charity which has lent to more than 100,000 people and families through 258 community agencies throughout Australia.”  To be able to borrow, you have to be a client of eight budgeting agencies taking part for at least two months, and have an income low enough to get a community services card but high enough to repay the loans within two years.

Policy Watch is taking a little holiday until mid-January.
 Before we go and lie on the beach, we would like to leave you with a nice little bedtime story for the end of 2012.

 Thanks to the Christchurch Methodist Mission for sharing this one.

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