Tuesday 14 June 2011

Policy Watch

Dear people of Canterbury

It is hard, if not impossible to know what to say. Maybe there is nothing we can say. Earthquakes are not nice. They are not kind. They arrive, they shake and then they stop. We (hopefully) come out from wherever we are, and then we look at each other. We might give each other a hug. Then sometimes we cry. At least that is what this ex-Cantabrian recalls from last year.

We who are not there don’t really know what it’s like. We do know many of you have been struggling for quite a long time now. Some of you have been struggling for over nine months. Some of you are coping. Some are not. Many of you are tired. Many of you are just hanging in there.

Some of you have had your homes fixed and are back to square one. Some of you never got past square one in the first place. Some are now at square minus one. Others are perfectly fine. Some have lost jobs; some are going to school at odd times in different places. Some have bravely set up their businesses in very odd conditions.

I wonder if all of us now in Aotearoa New Zealand are over the novelty factor. Yes, there is still wonder at Rūaumoko turning in his mother’s womb, or the pure geology around the shaking of the Earth.
But there is no longer wonder at the novelty of huge amounts of sand to be dug (again), the crack that has got bigger (again), or the new slope on the house. Not to mention another EQC claim form to be filled out, more correspondence, more waiting. We’ve been there before. We are also less than 2 weeks from the shortest day. It is not summer like last time.

Why us? Why Ōtautahi? A place where we did not have earthquakes? There are no answers to our questions, except we all knew that when Rūamoko dished out a 7.1, there would be more to follow. We just did not expect it to be like this. Rūamoko has stolen the cafes where we used to meet our friends, many of our graceful old churches, our usual routines.

As the dust settles, and we blink and take it all in, the age-old truths are underlined. We can build each other up, or we can try believing the lie we can all do it on our own. Rūamoko is not only destructive, he is also our teacher. We only deal with the exigencies of life with the help of each other. That is the way it is.

… which brings us to the rest of Policy Watch

It only takes a click to help reduce inequality

There were Bishops; there were church leaders; there was a ukulele orchestra; there was the Downtown Community Ministry staff and customers, there were NZCCSS council members and we, the staff. We all joined together to launch and celebrate Whakatata Mai Closer Together – the NZCCSS project to reduce inequality.
Ruby Duncan, NZCCSS president summed it all up: “our largely individualistic approach to economics and politics will lead us down a dark alley, where the nation we are becoming is increasingly divided. This separation is on the face of it an increasing divide between rich and poor, but underneath that is the reality of misery and despair for those growing up as the have-nots.”
NZCCSS wants all parties and government agencies to develop or support policies that promote equality or reduce inequality. We don’t want a country of haves and have-nots; rather we want to live in a society where everyone gets a fair go and is seen as valuable.

To support this vision, go to the website http://www.closertogether.org.nz/. Background information can be found here.

Marinating together: alcohol and self-responsibility

Young people and alcohol are in the news for all the wrong reasons again. Our Prime Minister John Key says “everyone acknowledges there needed to be a cultural change around young people and alcohol. Laws are going through the system now to address that, but the culture had to change and that would occur by constantly talking to them” (?) He says “there is a limit to what the law can do” and “proposals in the Alcohol Reform Law, such as fining adults who supply alcohol to minors without their parents' consent", should improve matters.

Parents policing their children’s alcohol consumption are in a close to impossible situation. Parental responsibly would be fine if our society supported that responsibility. But it doesn’t. We swim in alcohol advertisements, cheap alcohol and supermarkets with aisles packed with booze. Then we wonder why our children get into difficulties.

Our emergency departments struggle with drunken patients. Research conducted at Wellington Hospital found a ‘significant’ negative impact on the workload and safety of staff. ALAC Chief Executive Officer Gerard Vaughan noted drunks cost a lot more to treat, take more time and need more resources. This means other patients often have to wait for their treatment.

We know the solutions, but won’t apply them. Education is limited in its effectiveness. The real levers involve: raising alcohol prices, raising the purchase age, reducing alcohol accessibility, reducing marketing and advertising, increasing drink-driving counter-measures, and increasing treatment opportunities for heavy drinkers.

Policy 101: a collective approach to individual responsibility

Readers may notice there is a theme running through Prime Minster’s alcohol comments that appear in other places. Sitting here, it looks like “compassionate conservatism” is the current flavour of many of our government policies. A Wikipedia entry on ‘compassionate conservatism’ explains it is “… a new way of thinking about the poor. …[T]elling the poor that they are mere passive victims, whether of racism or of vast economic forces, is not only false but also destructive, paralyzing the poor with thoughts of their own helplessness and inadequacy. The poor need the larger society's moral support; they need to hear the message of personal responsibility and self-reliance, the optimistic assurance that if they try – as they must – they will make it. They need to know, too, that they can't blame "the system" for their own wrongdoing.

The compassionate conservatism bit usually comes with the ‘big society’ bit and the ‘self-responsibility’ bit. “Big society is about changing the way [the] country is run; [the rhetoric is about government no longer] treating everyone like children ...let's treat adults like adults and give them more responsibility over their lives.”  It means free market policies are best for helping people, because then people are free to look after their own. This means small government, lowered taxes, a more efficient free market, more personal responsibility and that if you do your best to look after yourself, then you will be all right. Archbishop Rown Williams has labelled the English version as an 'opportunistic' cover for spending cuts.

But is putting temptation in front of people’s noses to build a Convention Centre taking personal responsibility too far?

The contract for Auckland’s new Convention Centre is planned to go to Sky City who are going to build it without any assistance from Government (small government). There is, however, a catch. It involves changing the gaming laws presumably to allow more gaming to help pay for the centre. It is a little reminiscent of hobbits and the movie industry. So what happens is instead of all the taxpayers helping to pay for the convention centre, we pay for it by encouraging the growth of gambling problems. We know there is a direct correlation between gambling opportunities and gambling difficulties.

This is happening at the same time as Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne is welcoming a Health Ministry Value-for-Money Review of problem gambling services. It shows 'they were innovative, well designed and with good coverage of the most at-risk groups.’

Research suggests that a severe problem gambler adversely affects up to 7 others (though some estimates range higher). Māori and Pasifika are approximately four times more likely to be problem gamblers. People living in more socioeconomically deprived areas are significantly more likely to be problem gamblers. Four in every five problem gamblers had played on non-casino gaming machines (pokies based in pubs and clubs) in the last 12 months.

Over $1.9 billion was lost by gamblers in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2010.” (http://www.dia.govt.nz/)

Gambling Helpline 0800 654 655

We’ve got to do better for our children …

It’s like we are ploughing money in to the ‘fix it’ bit and not into the preventing the problem in the first place. So Child, Youth and Family has found many of its children have ‘suffered terribly’ before they are taken into care. ‘A third of children who were assessed had hearing problems, two-thirds had emotional or behavioural issues and 40 per cent had a mental health disorder. In nine out of 10 cases, problems were not picked up until the assessment. Health assessments will be rolled out in all regions in the next 18 months, with $44 million allocated in the Budget.’

Former Children's Commissioner John Angus has said we need to ensure children are not lost to the health system in the first place. "In a system where people really cared about how children fared, there'd be someone going out and knocking on the door."

…Because the statistics are not ok

Between July 2009 and June 2010, Child, Youth and Family received nearly 125,000 notifications, which found:12,500 cases of emotional abuse, 4400 cases of neglect, 2900 cases of physical abuse and 1200 cases of sexual abuse. Nearly 3200 children were taken into CYF custody.

Among OECD countries, New Zealand has: The highest youth suicide rate, the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate, the second-highest road fatality rate for 15- to 17-year-olds, and a child abuse rate four to six times higher than the leading countries. A 2007 study found 34 per cent of high school pupils reported binge drinking in the previous four weeks, and three-quarters of young people with depression receive no help.

The Gluckman Report

This report on reducing social and psychological morbidity during adolescence was released in May. The 307 page report is full of useful information and is an attempt to “state what the evidence base suggests does work and doesn’t work, and leave it for the other dimensions of political and social values to be added to what the evidence base shows.”

”Most of the report's 11 recommendations are broad, but include: more mental health screening, prevention and treatment programmes specifically for adolescents, along with a boost in the number of people trained to work with young people; tighter alcohol regulations, including raising excise tax and a purchase age of 21; and creating new policy and programmes based on scientific evidence, not anecdote or advocacy.”

Chris Trotter has described the report as ‘ahistorical.’ He comments “if there is social and psychological morbidity in New Zealand society, the explanation is not to be found in our genes, or the development of our brains, but in the political and economic decisions that have made the unnatural extension of "adolescence" inevitable.”

The full report can be found here

And the Early Childhood Education Taskforce report

The Taskforce was established in October 2010 to review the effectiveness of ECE spending and to make recommendations on proposed improvements, including changes to funding and policy settings. Minister Tolley has welcomed the report. Te Tari Puna Ora o Aotearoa/NZ Childcare Association has a few reservations, e.g.” the constraint on the working party to be cost-neutral has meant winners and losers.”

Find out more about the report here


Good resource for keeping going in Canterbury here

Improving the Transition: Reducing Social and Psychological Morbidity During Adolescence: A report from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, May 2011 Gluckman report

The psychosocial consequences of the Canterbury earthquakes A briefing paper

What’s on

Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence Conference "The solution to family violence is within us” Friday 24 and Saturday 25 June, 2011, Pacific Island Presbyterian Church, 49 Constable Street, Newtown, Wellington. The conference is free, and you can register here.

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