Tuesday 16 August 2011

Policy Watch

Our BOT chair knew we were a decile 2 school but thought there were only two deciles and we were in the top half. We had no sense of ourselves as impoverished. We regarded time as wealth and all our parents came to respect the contribution they could make in time: holiday cleaning, the school painting, grounds maintenance, reading tutors, sports coaches... it was the richest school I have known and it continues to thrive.
         Ex principal, decile 2 school.

How to be in the top 20%

If you want to be in the top 20% of income earners, here’s the recipe. First, take out the housing costs to make the whole comparison bit easier. Be aged 45-64. Ok so far? Right, be part of a couple. Yes? – good. How about being Pākehā? – mmm, lots of you. Good news if you want to be at the top. Make sure you have no dependent children. You do? – Well, sorry, they may be our future, but they’re not good for your finances. In fact, according to the latest MSD Household Incomes in New Zealand Report, only 14% of couples with children are in the top 20% group. Sorry about that.

If you are a child and want to live in the top decile group, then make sure you have two parents who are prepared to live with you – your chance of being in the top decile with only one parent is only around 5%.

Sadly, around 22% of our children are living in poverty. That is – one in six Pākeha children and a third of all Māori children. Around 27% of all our children live in the bottom 20% group. Groups over –represented amongst the bottom 20% are children and young people 0-17, single people, single parents with dependent children, and anyone who is not Pākehā. Just over 60% of children in single parent households are in this bottom 20%.

To help reduce inequality and make things better for our children, click here.

If the kids are alright, we are too

Getting it right for our children will save us money as a nation. The Every Child Counts coalition is calling for “a fundamental look at what’s happening for children, the communities they live in, the supports they receive from government and how New Zealanders work together to grow healthy children.”

They have just released a major research report done by Infometrics with six key messages. Message number one: the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are critical to their future wellbeing. Message number two: poor child outcomes are costing Aotearoa New Zealand around 3% of GDP or $6 billion per year. The cost includes increased health, remedial education, crime and justice expenditure and lower productivity More. A second report - Māori and Pacific Child Poverty by Manuka Henare, from Auckland University will be released on 2 September.

Which kids are we going to make it alright for?

Children are becoming a bit of an election focus. The Greens children’s policy plans to "1) make Working for Families work for every low-income family; 2) provide better study support for sole parents and beneficiaries; 3) raise the minimum wage to help working parents; and 4) make sure rental properties are warm and healthy for kids." Labour is also committed to dealing with high rates of child poverty with its Children First policy. Not surprisingly, the Child Poverty Action Group supports this focus on children with CPAG social policy spokesperson Mike O’Brien saying ‘policies that improve financial assistance for the poorest, help parents into education so they can earn better salaries in the long run, and provide more support for very young children in vulnerable families are a good idea.’

National’s focus is more highly targeted involving confronting child abuse, expanding participation in early childhood education, boosting immunisiation, reformulating the Family Start programme, and improving maternity services.

Maybe we would do well to heed the fifth key message in the Infometrics study:

There is international unanimity that deprivation is a primary risk factor in early childhood resulting in poor outcomes adulthood. Deprivation includes inadequate family income, poor quality housing, inability to access health services, educational opportunities and reduced social engagement.

Trying to do the right thing can make you poor

It’s not fair. Around one in four Pasifika children live in poor households. Recent Ministry of Consumer Affairs research documents Pasifika parents doing the ‘right thing’ and marking important family events. Unfortunately, this sometimes means borrowing money from third tier lenders (sometimes called loan-sharks). The research shows loan shark advertising often targets people with poor or no credit history, emphasises the ease of the loan, and sometimes includes incentives to refer friends and families to the lender. Many of the outlets are in South Auckland. The report provides numerous examples where Pasifika families borrow in order to mark important family occasions – and then end up in difficult situations. It appears around 35% to 40% of third-tier lenders are not registered as Financial Service Providers, as required by law.

The great beneficiary screw-down

Welfare reform is beginning to wend its way through our social policies. First up is Future Focus which we are told is saving us more than $6 million. Future Focus requires: (1)Unemployment Beneficiaries to reapply if they remain on the benefit after a year and prove their eligibility to continue receiving assistance; and (2) DPB recipients with children over six to look for part-time work.

About half of the 7,400 people who have gone off unemployment benefits did not complete the process. We wonder where these people are and how they are getting on. Kay Brereton of the Beneficiary Advocacy Federation of New Zealand also wonders how they are getting on. She is concerned ‘people with very limited employment prospects due to literacy, criminal convictions, language and other barriers are being failed at reapplication because they don't have the skills and the paperwork to satisfy a case manager that they have been actively seeking work.’ Her view is if Work and Income is working with their job seekers there would be no need for an annual review, because case managers would know their clients’ circumstances. Struggling homeless people can generate heightened social costs further down the track.

Then there is the old favourite – fraud. National has announced it will campaign on benefit fraud. Labour supports a fraud crackdown. Most benefit fraud turns out to be overpayment by Work and Income, and therefore should not be blamed on benefit recipients.

Finally, the latest target, - young people. The 16 and 17 year olds on the independent youth benefit and 18 year old teen parents will no longer be directly paid their benefit. Instead it will be managed with costs such as rent and power being paid directly, and money for food and groceries (excluding alcohol and cigarettes) loaded onto a card. There will also be obligations to be in education, training or work. More.

What seems to be missing in all this is any policy to help generate jobs and opportunities. The lack of focus on opportunities has been picked up by Jacinda Ahern, Gordon Campbell, Te Wharepora Hou, the Alliance Party, Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First and others.

The great training screw up

The Salvation Army is not happy about training funding. The Tertiary Education Commission is cutting funding by 14% because of a previous budget blowout. One result is the Salvation Army’s employment training arm, Employment Plus, is now facing a $240,000 funding reduction and is reviewing its future in the training sector. It sees “a diminishing Government strategy to move the unemployed into work.”

‘Last year, The Salvation Army was funded to provide 611 employment training places, but managed to train 1416 unemployed people across the country. More than 1,200 completed the programmes, with 758, or 63 per cent, placed in work or additional training to obtain additional skills relevant to their career aims. Of the 758, 65% were placed in work and 35% in training.’

Vulnerable people – learning from Canterbury

Canterbury District Health Board has released Eldernet research into what services supporting vulnerable people have learned from the September and February earthquakes. Sue Carwell’s report can be found at www.eldernet.co.nz There is a raft of conclusions including regarding community links, preventive contingency plans, information loss, and many other factors more.

Retirement village registration fees changed on 11 August

Details of the fee changes can be found here.

Call for providers - Break-Away School Holiday Programme 2011/12

Break-Away provides programmes for young people who would not normally have access to fun, stimulating and structured activities during the summer and April school holidays. Applications are now open for organisations to deliver the 2011/12 Break-Away School Holiday Programme. Providers of the programme are funded $100 for each one week placement, and the programme is free to all participants. More info.  Applications close 26 August 2011.


Every child counts 1,000 days to get it right for every child here.

On a level playing field: fair play and the common good – Caritas social justice week materials looking at aspects of inequality, fairness and justice in New Zealand society – in the light of Catholic social teaching here.

New SKIP resources to support teen parents here.

Household Incomes in New Zealand: trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2010 here.

What’s on

JIGSAW National Conference: Te Papa Wellington - 2 - 4 November 2011 Jigsaw is a network of more than 40 independent community based agencies helping to prevent child abuse, neglect and family violence while promoting flourishing and thriving children within their families and communities. The theme of this year’s conference, is “whanau ora through children’s eyes.” Cost: $275 per person. Registration and more info here.

Union and Community Group Workshops
Organised by Kotare Trust to build on-going relationships between unions and community groups working for social change. Workshops run from 9am -4.00pm and are at: Auckland: 26th August; Hamilton: 29th August; Wellington: 5th September; Dunedin: 1st September More.

Napier Family Centre term 3 workshops here.

Forum – How easy or hard is it to live in New Zealand in your culture?
Join Poverty Action Waikato in collecting stories of exclusion and inclusion, poverty and privilege and advocating for social change. NZ Diversity Forum, Sunday 21st August, 1.30-3pm, Claudelands Event Centre. Email: rose@anglicanaction.org.nz or anna@anglicanaction.org.nz PH: +64 7 8565820

Social Service Providers Aotearoa conference – 25 /26 August 2011. Keynote speakers include Nicola Atwool Principal Advisor, Children‘s Commissioners Office; Anthea Simcock, CEO and Founder, Child Matters; Nick Baker, Chairman of Child & Youth Mortality Review Committee. More.

Situations vacant

Wesley Community Action

1. Social Worker: Focus on young parents and their whānau; Porirua based more www.wesleyca.org.nz

2. House Parents- Focus on young people - Tawa location more. Applications Close; Friday 2 September 2011.

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