Thursday 16 December 2010

Policy Watch

This is the last Policy Watch before Christmas, so we wish you... A Christmas wish list for children has been put together by The Green Party. Every child needs a warm, dry, secure home, nutritious food to grow healthy and strong, a quality public education, and a safe environment All I want for Christmas ….

Our kids or our credit rating?
Finance Minister Bill English is concerned about NZ’s credit rating and reducing Government Budget deficits. Because his government has gifted huge tax cuts to the wealthiest, Government tax revenue is dropping and as a result the Government is trying to spend less. The Government spending less means less for our children – it is as simple as that.

What about our children??
New Zealand’s performance on caring for our children and keeping them out of poverty is simply awful and there is no change in sight. The catalogue of real time stories and solid research is growing. In the past weeks we have had the Children’s Social Health Monitor, Unicef, CPAG, Human Rights Commission, Regional Public Health and our own Vulnerability Report tracking the havoc being wrought on our children.

Children’s Social Health Monitor released this week paints a grim picture. One in five of our children are reliant on Government Benefits as the primary source of their family’s income and our current social safety nets inadequately protect these children from severe or significant hardship. Add to that there are increases in hospital admissions for socioeconomically sensitive medical conditions that which appear to have reversed some of the gains made during the mid-2000s.

As Unicef points out, NZ ranks low among the 30 OECD countries for preventable, infectious diseases and our rate of rheumatic fever, a classic poverty-related disease is 14 times the OECD average. Diseases like this bring with them serious long-term health consequences for children affected.

Unicef’s Denis McKinlay says “This challenges everyone in New Zealand, including business interests - and currently the Welfare Working Group - to give particular consideration to the needs and rights of children when it makes its recommendations to the Government on welfare reform.”

“Any review of efficiency in government spending must put children’s wellbeing,
their best interests and their right to a secure and healthy start to life at
the centre” he said.

Who are the children left behind?
A new report by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre adds yet more evidence of the impacts of inequality on children. The disparity gaps between children who are doing well and those at the bottom end of the wellbeing table are not inevitable but are a matter of policy choice, evidenced by what some OECD countries have already achieved for children. There is considerable variation in how well countries allow disparities between what is considered a ‘normal’ standard of child wellbeing and children who are at the “bottom end” of the disparity ranking.

“Not Achieved” on Child poverty reduction
The Human Rights Commission report card on the state of human rights in New Zealand gives NZ a “Not Achieved” on child poverty and benefit levels. The Commission identifies 30 priority areas of action that focus on strengthening New Zealand’s constitutional and legal framework; tackling entrenched inequalities and systemic structural discrimination; and more explicitly and effectively implementing civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights. The thirty priority areas highlight what needs to be done to better protect groups of people who are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses, or are subject to structural discrimination.

Can our kids get to a doctor when they need to?
Asks the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) They are calling on the government to take action to improve children’s after-hours access to doctors. The call comes as a paper published in the Journal of Primary Health Care highlights the importance of cost as a barrier to healthcare, and the key role this can play in New Zealand’s poor child health statistics.

The Regional Public Health has calculated food costs that show that families on low incomes need to spend between 42 – 75% of their income after paying housing costs in food if they are to have a healthy basic diet. Read Food Costs For Families

The NZCCSS Vulnerability Report just released
Reported at the end of September 2010 there were 234,000 children living in benefit dependent households (one in five of our 1 million children). Living on a benefit is almost guaranteed to mean living in poverty.

A Manufactured crisis to fit a pre-determined agenda?
The release of the Welfare Justice Report of the Alternative Welfare Working Group last week provides some refreshing and balanced analysis of the true state of our welfare system. NZCCSS President Ruby Duncan welcomed the report: “this report provides an evidence-based rational for decreasing welfare costs by increasing the wellbeing of the most vulnerable New Zealanders – people who live in benefit dependent homes”. It is good to read the analysis in Chapter 11 that reminds us that our welfare costs are not “blowing out”. Work & Income chief Mike Smith leapt to the defence of his staff in response to criticisms from clients contained in the report, calling them unfair. Presumably he has actually called into one or two of his own offices anonymously to experience what it is really like to be on the receiving end of our welfare system?
Read the Welfare Justice Report

Meanwhile Children’s Commissioner John Angus is pointing to the risks to our children presented by some of the draconian and even bizarre “options” presented in the Government Welfare Working Group Options Paper released in November. "I have concerns about the options that would reduce benefit levels or take other punitive measures for women who have another child while on a benefit. I cannot see how this would lead to good outcomes for any children in such a family," he said in the NZ Herald. Apparently though according to Welfare Working Group Chair Paula Rebstock, they are only "lukewarm on cutting benefits to sole parents". So, in other words – benefit cuts are very much on her agenda, second on the list after turning our system into an insurance-based system, no doubt!

Take Action!
It is important for as many people as possible to show their desire for a welfare system that has the wellbeing of children and families and wider community at its centre. So write one page or a whole book, but get your submission in by Christmas Eve 24th December on the Government Welfare Working Group paper “Reducing Long-Term Benefit Dependency: The Options”
Online, written or email submissions are welcome:
The Secretariat, Welfare Working Group, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.

On the subject of taking action: CPI increases are a must for Budget 2011 - The word is that there is no CPI increase being considered for Government contracts for social service delivery by nonprofit organisations in the next Budget. The CPI measures price changes, including wages and transportation - two significant and increasing costs that nonprofit organisations have to pay for. Take action write to your MP and the Finance Minister – here is a letter template you can use:

Contract Mapping - Funding Transparency for social services:
In case you are wondering why there is a fuss about funding, you might want to compare the relative priority this Government has given to social services spending with other “priorities”:
• Tax Cuts - $2billion
• South Pacific Finance bailout $1.7 billion
• Social services caring for children, families and communities $431 million

MSD has put details of all its contract funding for social services on line. The new Contract Mapping site has MSD contracts mapped now, and plans to add contracts held by Justice, Health, Education and Te Puni Kokiri soon. In the interests of further “funding transparency” can we perhaps look forward to the details of all those receiving the billions in tax cuts and bailouts from South Pacific Finance also being loaded onto Google Maps. How about the Ministry of Defence?

Take Action! Alcohol Reform Bill
"There is nothing in recent Government proposals which will make any substantial difference to the amount of heavy drinking in New Zealand," says the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. NZCCSS urges you to make a submission to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee. Submissions are due by 18th February 2011 and you can find submission guides at: Alcohol Action Salvation Army

The NZ Charities Commission seems to have got the wrong end of the stick compared to its Australian counterpart. The National Council of Women has made a request for an investigation with the Ombudsman about the attempts by the Charities Commission to de-register the NCW. They point out that the Australian Courts recognised advocacy work intended for the public benefit was a charitable activity.

Nuclear powered private prisons? Peace Movement Aotearoa has reported some of the background to private prison operator Serco, appointed by Justice Minister Judith Collins-announced, who have been given the job of running Mt Eden prison. Serious issues have been raised about the way prisoners are treated as well as Serco’s close connection to running the UK nuclear weapons programmes

After nine months sitting on the Housing Shareholders Advisory Group report, the Minister of Housing has managed to issue one media release of recommendations in response! Apparently Cabinet has agreed to the recommendations of the report and they will be working with community housing providers to implement these recommendations, which has been welcomed by Community Housing Aotearoa. HNZC is going to be introducing “renewable tenancies’ from 1st July 2011. This brings with it huge risks that tenants with nowhere to go will be moved on – as Labour’s Moana Mackay points out, this does nothing to address the housing shortage – tenants have nowhere to go…
But who is building the houses? Housing consents are falling, with a 20% fall since March this year, according to Statistics NZ

Health funding squeeze continues:
Taihape’s very public battle to retain health services is one example of how the funding squeeze is being put on health services. Around the country DBHs are wrestling with varying degrees of financial constraint, with Labour Health Spokesperson Ruth Dyson reporting $27 million in funding cuts to community and hospital services in Wellington

NZ Superannuation
How can we have a sensible debate about keeping NZ Super affordable?
The Retirement Commissioner is recommending increasing the retirement age to 67 by 2033 as a way to help keep universal superannuation affordable (with accompanying transitional allowances for those who need help before then). While happy to consider cuts to benefits for sole parents, the Prime Minister is ruling out any changes to age of entitlement for NZ Super under his watch. If only he could extend his generosity to our children as well.

Employment law changes rushed through Parliament
last month mean some significant changes that come into effect on 1st April 2011. Including extending the 90-day trial period to all employers and the option to cash-up one week of annual leave entitlement. Read more on the Department of Labour website.

Pike River Coal Miners tribute
“This is the to you 29 lost to this earth– but not to the eternal” (Bono - U2, Mt Smart Stadium)
Pike River postscript. We pray for those who died. May we continue to honour their lives and the gift they were to their families and the community. May they rest in peace.
We pray for the families and their communities living with the grief.
We pray and give thanks for all who have stood beside them in this crisis – the emergency services and police and the church and community services that have mobilised to support them.
A Pike River Miners' Relief Fund Trust has been established by the Grey District Council for the families of the 29 men who died, with donations accepted at any branch of Westpac.

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