Monday 19 July 2010

Policy Watch

“No-one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation
should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest
ones.”(Nelson Mandela, preface to Prisoner Health report)

Prisoner Health Report

The National Health Committee has presented a comprehensive report to the Ministers of Health and Corrections called Health in justice: Improving the health of prisoners, their families and Whanau. Unsurprisingly the report finds: “Prison is an opportunity to protect, promote, and improve the health of prisoners and the community. But the NHC has found that the experience of imprisonment has negative health effects on those incarcerated and unintended consequences for the health and well-being of their family and whānau. Furthermore, the health effects of imprisonment fall most heavily on already disadvantaged communities – further undermining their resilience and increasing inequalities. It is a tragedy that Māori make up half the prison population. There are significant consequences for whānau ora and hauora Māori overall.

The National Health Committee has made a range of recommendations, the most significant of which is to transfer prisoner healthcare to the health system, a move that Kim Workman says “needs to be seriously discussed and considered”.

Work rights weakened by raft of new government policies

In a speech to party faithful at a recent National Party Conference, the Prime Minister announced a range of changes to labour laws which in effect will seriously weaken worker rights. These announcements include the extension of the 90 day trial to all new employees, changes to the personal grievance system and changes to the Employment Relations Authority. Other changes include allowing employees to cash in one weeks annual leave, and giving employers the right to demand to see a medical certificate even if an employee has only been off sick for one day (currently a certificate can be asked for if an employee is sick for 3 consecutive days). Additionally, Unions are soon to be required to ask permission to enter worksites. Permission can’t be unreasonably withheld – which raises the question of what reasonable means.

Apparently this is all in aid of removing the barriers to employment, providing flexibility and improving productivity. However it probably won’t feel like that for new workers who do not know why they have been dismissed, low income workers who don’t take a sick day because they can’t afford to go the doctors, or for any employee who wants to talk to their union rep at work. Unions have called the changes to labour laws ‘outrageous’. We agree with Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly’s comment that “extending the [90 day] scheme – which was passed under urgency within weeks of National winning the 2008 election – would hit vulnerable workers - it is important for every worker in New Zealand to have the right to appeal against unfair dismissal”.

Govt announces radical changes to state housing

Good quality affordable housing is a critical component of family wellbeing. Unfortunately the cost of buying or renting is becoming increasingly out of reach for many people on low incomes. Given this, the provision of state houses and subsidized rents (through the Income Related Rents policy) is a crucial tool to enable access for many. We know that HNZC isn’t meeting the needs of all (there are over 10,000 families on the waiting list) but there would be much more hardship without the contribution the government makes through HNZC. It is therefore with some alarm that we read in the NZ Herald that the government as identified 20,285 homes for "redevelopment, reconfiguration, outright disposal or disposal and replacement".

HNZC intends to sell or redevelop almost a third of its 69,000 houses, with sales projected to accelerate from $39 million in the next year to $51 million in 2011-2012 and to $110 million in 2012-13. They also want to spend more in high need areas such as Auckland and look at reducing the density of state houses to no more than 30% in any area. This will affect places like Mangere, Otara, Mt Roskill and Tamaki in Auckland, and parts of Porirua and the Hutt Valley in Wellington. (More detail on the direction of government policy on social housing is outlined in the 2010-2013 Statement of Intent for HNZC).

Labour's Housing spokesperson Moana Mackey is calling on Housing Minister Phil Heatley to give a cast iron guarantee that his “reconfiguration” of state housing will not result in any reduction in net state house numbers across the country. We too are interested in this assurance. It’s rather strange that the Minister of Housing has not had a press release on this rather significant reshaping of state housing. We will endeavour to get more information so we can start to assess the implications.


In the NZ Herald on 11 July, John McCarthy, General Manager of Lifewise in Auckland (and NZCCSS member) noted the increasing numbers of homeless young people due to the rising cost of living. Stephanie McIntyre from Wellington’s Downtown Community Ministry also commented on “record numbers of people using the night shelter”, with others doubling up in flats or living in substandard houses or boarding houses. As McCarthy notes, “Under 25s need quick intervention so they don’t get into patterns of living rough, but we have limited resources to hope this new generation of homeless”.

Predictions of rent increases (due to changes in property taxation rules) and the increase in GST on October 1 is adding to anxiety from social agencies about how vulnerable young people (and others) will cope. These problems however are not insurmountable and we can learn from the responses developed overseas. Community Housing Aotearoa (CHA) recently identified two plans or interest from the US and Canada. At home, the NZ Coalition to End Homelessness (NZCEH) is calling for an official enquiry to into the growing problem of homelessness. As NZCEH co chair Corie Haddock states “it will take more than night shelters to fix the problem”.

Benefit Figures Released

Benefit statistics for the month of June have been released by MSD and show a 1.1% increase in people receiving a main benefit. Numbers of people receiving the Unemployment Benefit rose by approximately 2000 in June to 62,085. The Minister has responded “We knew recovering from the recession would be a long and bumpy road”.

Food Prices research

Each year the Department of Human Nutrition calculates the weekly cost of purchasing a healthy diet for men, women, adolescents, and children. Food cost data is collected by Student Dietitians in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. The survey found that food costs have increased in all five centres. While the annual increases are modest, the accumulated costs of time show a definite trend towards food becoming expensive, especially for those on low incomes. According to a Sunday Star Times article on the survey over a five year period food prices for a family of four have increased by 50%.

And on the subject of food prices, Statistics NZ have released the Food Price Index for June which shows a 2% decrease in food prices in the year to June 2010, however this needs to be seen in the context of an overall rise in food prices of 17% in the two years to July 2009.

Maori Party to introduce New Bill to scrap GST on Healthy Food

MP Rahui Katene is planning to introduce a bill into Parliament to scrap GST on healthy foods. The Maori Party is using evidence from two recent studies to support the Bill. Both studies showed a link between healthy food and affordability. The National Government has rejected the idea, as did the previous Labour Government citing the complexity and cost of administration as barriers. However other countries have managed this, such as Australia and the US. The legislation is unlikely to get past its first reading.

Research on health inequalities

Poorer New Zealanders are ending up in hospital because they cannot afford to pay for medicines prescribed to them, a study has found. Maori and Pacific people are especially hard-hit. Read more…

Rising demand for dementia care

Home Instead Senior Care, an organisation dedicated to providing in-home care for the elderly, says it has seen a 25 percent increase in past 12 months in requests from families of Alzheimer’s sufferers asking for additional care to that provided by local District Health Boards. Alzheimer’s is one disease that causes dementia. Read more…

Radio NZ Insight special documentaries: Dementia (Source: Age Concern Senior Watch #72)

Listen to this programme Insight, Sunday 27 June: Dementia, Part One (duration:28′12″) [photo = dementia patient Richard Thompson]or Download: Ogg Vorbis MP3 (caution large files – about 10MB, better to listen online)

Forty-one thousand people in New Zealand have dementia, …But people with dementia say the stereotypical image of a helpless, frail pensioner works against them, causing stigma and alienation.In the first programme of a two-part series on dementia, Sue Ingram talks to those affected by the disease.

Sunday, 04 July 2010: Dementia, Part Two Listen to this programme Insight, Sunday 4 July 2010: Dementia, Part Two (duration:28′06″)Or Download: Ogg Vorbis MP3

New resource for helping choose a retirement village

The Department of Building and Housing has release a document called Thinking of living in a retirement village? on their website. This publication is targeted at intending residents, their families and existing residents. It covers:

• Choosing the lifestyle you want

• Understanding the legal structure

• Signing up

• Village rules

• Complaints process

• Costs when leaving the village

• Financial checklist

Nominations sought for William Wallace Award Scholarships

Nominations for this year's William Wallace awards, for outstanding young people in foster care, are now open. The national awards are to help the young people pursue their dreams with leadership, tertiary or vocational training. Nominations close August 9.

Welfare for the 21st Century: Beyond the Terms of Reference

CPAG has decided it will hold another Welfare Forum with a much wider scope that that offered by the government appointed Welfare Working Group. This forum will include speakers from Australia and New Zealand to discuss long term welfare policies. CPAG is pleased to join with the Retirement Policy and Research Centre and the Department of Sociology at Auckland University in organising this important Forum. The proposed title is “Welfare for the 21st Century: Beyond the Terms of Reference”. Please note the date for this is 10th September 2010 at the Business School, University of Auckland. Final details will be available shortly but you may register your interest at

CYF Fresh Start - update

The July 2010 Fresh Start newsletter is now available. It includes information on the latest round of the Innovation Fund, as well as details about how providers can apply for preferred provider status for the following Fresh Start programmes:

• Youth Court ordered mentoring programmes

• Youth Court ordered parenting education programmes

• Court supervised camps

• Community youth programmes

Working for Families Evaluation Report

MSD and IRD have released a joint evaluation report on Working for Families. According to Simon Collins ‘Labour's $1.5 billion Working for Families package has driven a net 1200 parents out of the paid workforce - achieving the opposite of its aim to "make work pay".’ However researchers also found that “the $60 a week in-work tax credit lured 8100 sole parents into paid work.” Unfortunately with the recession many of the job opportunities for sole parents have disappeared.

Collect for your local women's refuge! Friday 23 July, Saturday 24 July 2010

Te Whare Rokiroki Maori Women's Refuge and Wellington Women's Refuge need your help. We seek volunteers to help with our annual street appeal to collect in the Wellington CBD, Kilbirnie, Newtown, Lyall Bay & Karori suburbs. For further information, contact Jo Paku,Te Whare Rokiroki Maori Women's Refuge, 04 473 5921

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