Monday 13 September 2010

Policy Watch

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Christchurch as they experience
the huge vulnerability brought about by last Saturday’s devastating earthquake.
We thank God that no lives were lost and pray for a speedy recovery for those
who are injured”
(Ruby Duncan, Acting NZCCSS President)

Canterbury Earthquake

Ruby Duncan voices the thoughts of us all as we seek to support the people of Canterbury to rebuild after the disaster of the earthquake and continuing aftershocks. The Christchurch Methodist Mission has been badly affected, with the Durham Street Church and offices badly damaged and out of bounds indefinitely. Thanks to great cooperation from other social service agencies and quick action by those involved, most of the Mission’s services could be relocated and continue to operate.

Michael Gorman, Christchurch Anglican City Missioner, has emphasised that the City Mission and other agencies are ready and willing to help, have the resources and are happy to receive donations to assist those in need. The Salvation Army is distributing thousands of care packages of donated goods to those affected by the earthquake. Presbyterian Support is fully operational and lending a helping hand to other agencies worse affected as well as offering the ongoing social work and support services to their community.

In the midst of all the good news about communities pulling together in the crisis, the reports of an increased level of domestic violence since the earthquake are signals that underlying stress in this tight economic environment has tipped many families over the edge. The stress from a natural disaster has added to the crisis in housing and unemployment that families face and will be intensified over the coming weeks and months as people seek to rebuild lives.

Special Community Response Fund

A special $7.5 million Community Response Fund for social service providers in Canterbury has been announced by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett. From Monday 13th social services organisations can apply for one-off grants of between $5,000 and $10,000 for community-based social services in the region. Funding can be extended to service providers outside of normal providers as long as they are earthquake related and focussed on the well-being of the community.
From Monday morning 13th September information about the fund and process will be available on the Family and Community Services website or applicants can contact 0800 777 100

Aged Concern has praised the work of Government agencies and the community in responding to the needs of older people. President Liz Baxendine, herself a Christchurch resident, praised MSD for making the effort to phone the older people they had on their records (Age Concern media release)

All the Government’s announcements relating to the quake are on the Beehive website
Rural Women NZ has put together a resource list of information and contacts Earthquake Resources. Other links with quake information and updates:

Vulnerability Report No. 6 (September 2010) released

“There seems absolutely no sign of abatement in demand for our social services.”
(Napier Family Centre, July 2010)

The recession grinds on and is continuing to place immense stress on families and communities. This is the sobering message of the latest NZCCSS Vulnerability Report. Huge increases in the number of Temporary Additional Assistance (TAS) payments are testimony to the financial pressures on families receiving insufficient income support to live on (listen to Radio NZ Morning Report interview). Particularly distressing are the reports of growing housing pressures with community trusts reporting that they simply cannot find housing of the quality that their clients need and can afford. Lack of affordable housing, high rents, low incomes and unemployment – this is the disastrous combination that is hurting people.

Opportunities to do something about this situation abound. Improving our social welfare and our social housing systems is the subject of two discussion papers seeking feedback by the end of this week. Feedback on Welfare Working Group’s Issues paper is due 17 September. They are looking for your feedback on the issues raised in the "Long-Term Benefit Dependency: The Issues" discussion paper. Submissions can be made online or by hardcopy by Friday 17 September. Please refer to the previous two Policy Watch issues from 30th August & 16th August for more comment on this document. The Housing Shareholders Advisory Group “Home and Housed: A Vision for Social Housing in New Zealand” comments are also due by 17th September. NZCCSS is preparing comment and we refer to Policy Watch of 16th August for initial comments and links to other analysis of the issues.

“The response to this work needs to focus on ensuring all New Zealanders have
access to sufficient income and healthy housing – not on punitive measures for
beneficiaries and lack of resourcing for social housing – including State
houses” (Ruby Duncan, NZCCSS).

Further evidence of the need for the Government to re-think its spending priorities has come through the Government bailout for South Pacific Finance investors. The commitment of nearly $2 billion in Government hand-outs to the investors who placed their money in high risk finance company investments (as well as the corporate speculators who cashed in on the government guarantee over the past months) is in stark contrast to the hard hand being applied to people living on the few hundred dollars per week they are entitled to under our welfare system. The Alternative Welfare Working Group meetings around the country have given voice to people who are experiencing “cold and de-personalised” attitudes from staff who now have no “wriggle room” to adapt to the personal circumstances of clients.

On a more positive note, the Government is seeking views on ways to improve the fairness of access to social assistance programmes. Publicity around high income earners being able to arrange their tax affairs in such a way as to be able to claim Working For Families, Community Services cards and student allowances has led the Inland Revenue to issue a discussion paper asking for feedback on suggested changes. Read more on the IRD website (Views sought on proposals to promote fairness). An issues paper can be downloaded: Social assistance integrity: defining family income. Submissions close on 24 September 2010.

Energy Policy Impacts on the most vulnerable

The Domestic Energy Users Network (DEUN) has provided sound analysis of the impact of energy strategy on people on low incomes in its comments on the Government’s NZ Energy Strategy and the NZ Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy. A central message from their submission is that energy planning has to ensure that low income consumers can access the benefits of improved energy efficiency. DEUN comments that householders pay over half of the new carbon charges that will generate windfall revenues for Government, so those revenues should be directed as a priority to energy retrofits for low income and vulnerable consumers. Read the full comments on the Age Concern website

How make child support scheme fairer is another issue that the Government is asking for comment.
Revenue Minister Peter Dunne has launched a discussion document proposing a series of options - including changing how child support is calculated - to make the scheme fairer. He said that the current scheme is "is outdated and sometimes unfair" and that “family life in New Zealand has changed considerably in the 18 years since the current scheme was introduced." Read the discussion document on the IRD website Supporting Children. The Child Poverty Action Group produced a useful background on this issue earlier this year: Child Support: a comparison of legislation and policy in New Zealand and Australia. Comment is due by 29th October.

Whole of Family Response to Domestic Violence

Associate Social Development Minister Tariana Turia had warm words of appreciation for the whole of family approach to responding to domestic violence at the Mother of Divine Mercy Refuge in a recent visit. She described their approach as an example of the concept of Whānau Ora in action. Read the full speech on the Beehive website.

The Families Commission has released a study on social services in Masterton that gives a very positive picture of the good work being done in that community. Families Commissioner Carl Davidson commented that the evidence from the study of 400 families and their service providers “tells us that families there want social services that are culturally appropriate, family focused, community led, and where they can get to know and trust a small number of staff with their story”. Read the full study on the Families Commission website: Social Services in Masterton Report. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett welcomed the survey and the insights it will provide for developing Whānau Ora and Community Response model.

The NZ Home Health Association (NZHHA) is working with the Ministry of Health and Standards NZ to scope a project to review of the Home and Community Support Standard. The standard covers the work of organisations delivering home support services to disable and older people on their own homes. In a recent article in the InSite magazine, NZHHA CEO Julie Haggie described what the review aims to achieve and is acting as a conduit for consumer, provider groups and other stakeholders. NZCCSS will be providing comment and we welcome any feedback on the issues for home support standards. Contact for this work is Paul Barber 04 4732627.

Associate Minister of Health John Coleman in his speech to the Home Health Association conference also signalled changes to the way the government will fund homecare of disabled people. Key elements of the new approach will be local area coordination and ndividualised funding. Read more about the work on the Ministry of Health website: Investigating a new model for supporting disabled people.

A good start but only a start – that is the NZCCSS response to the release of the Aged Residential Care Service Review report prepared by Grant Thornton NZ. The one-year review has produced a thorough and robust analysis of the costs of providing residential aged care in New Zealand. It has set out models of anticipated future demand for those services over the next 15 years. It has laid the foundation for a wider public discussion about how to meet the challenges of providing good quality services across of the whole range of social, community and home support, aged residential care and affordable supported housing options for older people. Download the report from the DHBNZ website. NZCCSS will be working with its networks to ensure that the debate on future options is framed to ensure that low income and more vulnerable older people will have choices and access to a range of alternatives in support and housing. In welcoming the collaboration demonstrated in the sector in the work to produce the report the NZ Home Health Association also called for a wider perspective in addressing the challenges

One example of the wider perspective that may be needed is provided by the recent study completed by the Institute of Policy Studies. Managing Mixed Financing of Privately Owned Providers in the Public Interest offers a framework for analysing alternative ways of funding services that involve a mix of public and private finance. They compare the financing of general practice (primary health care), long-term care of older people, legal aid, and early childhood education in New Zealand, Australia, and England. Each service is characterised by a different mix of public and private finance and the authors identify an assessment framework that policy makers can use when deciding on their approach to mixed financing. Read more on the IPS website.

High Trust Contracts Working Group

From time to time NZCCSS brings together a small group of people to work through particular issues. A number of Christian providers are developing High Trust Contracts with MSD. This is proving to be a complex process and there is merit is sharing ideas on how the process is developing in different areas. If your organisation is working on a High Trust Contract and you would like to join in this discussion please contact our Executive Officer Trevor McGlinchey on 04 473 2627 or email Read more about High Trust Contracts on the Family and Community Services website

For those interested in the voice of the church in the public sphere, there are opportunities to hear a couple of those voices coming up soon…

Wednesday 15 September, 6:00pm: Professor Andrew Bradstock.
"Using ‘god-talk’ in a secular society: time for a new conversation on public issues?" 12:30-1:30 pm, in Railway West Wing Room 501, Railway Station Building, Wellington
As a secular society in New Zealand, do we exclude religious voices from the ‘public square’? Professor Bradstock argues that a new type of public discourse is necessary as we seek solutions to the serious issues we face today. He highlights three of these issues – soaring prison numbers, the gap between rich and poor, and the threat to the environment.

Wednesday 29 September - Jim Wallis, Founder and CEO of the Sojourners Community - Can Public Policy be Christian and Should it Be? Government Building Lecture Theatre 4, Wellington.

An international commentator on faith, ethics and public life, Jim Wallis is founder and CEO of the Sojourners Community based in Washington DC. Jim Wallis is also speaking at the Just Action Conference in Auckland 29th – 30th September.

Link for just Action Conference

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