Thursday 24 January 2013

Policy Watch

Ki te kore ngāpūtake e mākūkūngia, e kore te rākau e tupu
If the roots of the tree are not watered, the tree will never grow

The Mysterious Missing Welfare People

As the Christchurch Methodist Mission pointed out on its Facebook page, Garrick Tremaine’s 1994 cartoon says it all.  We have too many people chasing too few jobs, and welfare benefits and hardship grants are harder to obtain. The stresses and strains hurt our families. Our welfare system is failing to the job it was intended for. Rather than enabling people to participate and belong in our society, it is increasingly looking to Christian social services and others to pick up where it is leaving off. The services are over-stretched, and increasingly cannot provide.

NZCCSS’s Fourteenth Vulnerability Report illustrates trends experienced in government agencies and community based organisations for the year ending September 2012. Data since September has been included where possible.  Quite frankly, we’re worried about what is happening to people in vulnerable situations unable to access much-needed assistance.  Since the report was written, prescription fees have gone up from $3 to $5, and the Privacy Commissioner’s concerns about drug testing people on benefits have made the headlines. 

Bill English says the thing to do is get people off benefits, because it is here the country can save money.  Work-testing for DPBs has recently been introduced, as have new obligations and management of benefits for young people and teenage parents.  “Further reforms are … before the social services committee  [which reduce benefits] from seven to three: jobseeker support, sole parent support for parents with children under 14, and supporting living payment for people significantly restricted by sickness.  People who refuse to apply for drug-tested jobs  will face sanctions, and beneficiaries with children will need to immunise them and have toddlers enrolled in early childhood education.

The Minister of Finance argues  the increase in unemployment numbers is because of work-testing requirements.  Labour points out spending money on welfare reduction rather than jobs is misdirected, and the Greens are expressing concern, benefit numbers are falling, while unemployment is rising.  Auckland Action Against Poverty wisely point out reduced welfare in the absence of jobs is more likely to increase health costs than save money.

Enter Minister of Social Development, Paula Bennett, trumpeting the number of people on benefits in New Zealand is the lowest it’s been at the end of a December quarter since 2008. There are almost 12,000 fewer than this time last year.  She says much of it has to do with work testing people receiving the Domestic Purposes Benefit.  We sincerely hope the 12,000 have sufficient access to the necessities of life.

How did we ever make it to the top housing unaffordability category?

As well as enough to eat, people require homes.  Policy Watch, together with so many others has lamented New Zealand’s problems around houses.   In a memorable interview over Christmas, The Salvation Army‘s Campbell Roberts said 2012 was the worst year he has experienced in 20 years of working in South Auckland.”    We need enough, affordable, accessible, healthy homes.  Multiple en-suites are not required, neither are gourmet ovens, nor palaces. The recent Demographia survey shows New Zealand’s urban housing is “severely unaffordable”, particularly in Auckland and Christchurch.

 Housing New Zealand’s policies seem to be designed to keep people out of houses, with Tony Allen writing about what the front-line of Housing NZ’s new policy looks like, i.e “None of the deceptively lofty language about urban renewal and growing the economy has disguised the fact that the number of State homes in the Northern Glen Innes Redevelopment project is being HALVED from 156 homes down, instead, to 78 homes; nor do the words disguise the fact that only the new 78 Housing N.Z. homes will be offered to tenants at INCOME RELATED RENTS”.  There are, however, still some long term tenants around, writes James Ihaka.

Cabinet reshuffle to address housing worries?

It would be hard for any government to ignore the community cacophony about housing.  Maybe that’s why Phil Heatley has just been replaced with Nick SmithThe PM’s statement about the Cabinet reshuffle is here.  Housing Minister Heatley  inherited Lesley McTurk as CEO of Housing New Zealand, a role she held from 2007 until October last year.  McTurk dramatically cut access to state housing; restructured Christchurch City Council before that, and, within six years, until December 2002, “her management strategies turned” Southern Cross’s “hospital business around to make a commercially sustainable return on investment”. 

Housing New Zealand’s ability to make a return on investment is not really what people’s access to homes is all about.  The Greens have picked up New Zealanders need for more (rather than fewer) houses, and reduced speculation in houses; MANA points to policy debacles abound Glen Innes, Porirua, and Marenui.  Labour does have a plan –‘to oversee the construction of 100,000 affordable homes through KiwiBuild, as the market won’t deliver new entry-level homes, but the Government can and should.’

Just in:  the Greens Home for Life package which features progressive ownership, warrants of fitness for rentals, and secure tenancy.

Feed the Kids Campaign

The Children’s Commissioner’s Experts’ Group wanted food in schools in the lowest four deciles.  The Mana Party’s Bill seeks only  to set up breakfast and lunch programmes in all decile 1 and 2 schools.  What we need now is for the politicians support the Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill when it comes before Parliament on Wednesday 13 February to at least Select Committee level.  If it gets this far, then at least we can all get tossing around the pros and cons in more in-depth discussion.  It only gets this far though, if the politicians vote for it.  Persuading them helps, and this is where we all come in.

There is a page on how to help here, fact sheets here, and a copy of the Bill hereThere are many organisations supporting it, e.g. UNICEF, Every Child Counts, Auckland Action Against Poverty , Child Poverty Action Group, NZ Nurses Organisation, Poverty Action Waikato, the Methodist and Anglican Churches (Methodist Public Issues and Anglican Action), Te Rōpū Wāhine Māori Toko i te Ora (Māori Women’s Welfare League), PPTA, NZ Principals’ Federation, and Te Ora – the Māori Medical Practitioners’ Association.  We can all help persuade the politicians.

Invalid’s, Sickness Welfare reform – our big opportunity

CCS is worried about plans to introduce work ability assessments, influenced by controversial tests conducted in Britain when the invalid's benefit, paid to about 85,000 New Zealanders is replaced by the supported living payment as part of our welfare changes. The change is due to happen in July. CCS supports the use of appropriate tests designed to find out what assistance and supports the person needs to obtain employment.

 However, the British tests “have proven to be medical model based checklists, often administrated by people with little real knowledge of disability. The complex social and economic factors that govern people’s access to employment are deemed unimportant in these tests … [and] are particularly inaccurate at assessing those with fluctuating conditions, such as Multiple sclerosis, and mental health issues.”

‘CCS Disability Action chief executive David Matthews cited research showing the British Government had spent £42.2 million (NZ$80.5m) on appeals against the tests with 40% of decisions appealed, and 40% of these have found in favour of the claimant …who are then quickly reassessed, starting the process again.’

We want to avoid this sort of debacle. So here is our big opportunity.  MSD is doing a survey on our views about "what it will take [to assist those of us who have a disability], health condition or mental health condition into work".  The survey is online and they promise it is confidential.   There are surveys for
If you fit into all the above categories, then you can fill out all the surveys.  If filling out a survey is a problem, then you can email  or have someone email on your behalf, and they will find another way of consulting with you.

Reduced welfare + Reduced Housing = Reduced Rheumatic Fever?

We all know the above statement is not true.  Nearly three thousand children from 24 schools in Northland and Waikato are about to join the Government’s rheumatic fever reduction campaign.  Government has committed $24 million to reducing rheumatic fever by two-thirds by June 2017.  The programme involves sore throat swabbing and follow-up antibiotic treatment if needed.  Programmes also are addressing other common health issues such as skin infections, healthy housing and insulation.

Will police vetting cost?

 Government is continually looking for ways to save money, and the latest is to look at charging for police vetting.  There is a consultation document, and a submission form, or you can request a hard copy of the document.

Submissions are due by 5pm on Tuesday 5 March, 2013 either by email or to Submissions on Cost Recovery for Certain Police Services
Policy Group
Police National Headquarters
PO Box 3017
Wellington 6140

Family Court and Other Submissions Due

First up is the State Sector and Public Finance Reform Bill.  This is part of the Better Public Services changes.  Submission info is here, and submissions are due on 7 February.

Second is the Public Finance (Fiscal Responsibility) Amendment Bill with submissions due on 14 February.

Finally, the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill has submissions due on 13 February.  The New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse has a collection of information on its website.

Keep an eye on the changing scene in Canterbury

As our Canterbury Report noted late last year, Canterbury employment has been increasing.  Presbyterian Support Upper South Island head Vaughan Milner recently talked about life for Canterbury social services on Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint programme .

Life continues to change in Canterbury as rebuilding starts to get going.  There are stories about immigrants "needed" for unskilled jobs, and skyrocketing rents.  NZCCSS wishes to see life in Canterbury meeting the needs of its residents as much as possible.  

Dedicated stroke unit at Tauranga Hospital

The unit will assist 300 Bay of Plenty residents who suffer from a stroke each year, and is to be led by a professor who specialises in stroke care and has been recruited from Britain. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in NZ and one of the biggest causes of disability in older New Zealanders. It is largely preventable. Two thirds of strokes occur in people over 65 and one third are fatal.


International Indigenous Research Conference conference proceenings from Ngā Pae o Te Maramatnaga  available here 

What’s on

Treaty Debate Series 2013 - My Voice Counts
(a) My Voice Counts - Finding a Place for the Treaty
Thursday 24 January 2013, 6.30pm–8pm, Soundings Theatre, Level 2, Pe Papa Tongarewa / Museum of New Zealand, Wellington. 
(b) My Voice Counts - The Constitutional Review Thursday 31 January 2013, 6.30pm–8pm, Soundings Theatre, Level 2, Pe Papa Tongarewa / Museum of New Zealand, Wellington  More info

The Mental Health Foundation is hosting the three webinars in collaboration with the Office of the Pro Vice Chancellor Māori, Victoria University of Wellington addressing Māori suicide from an indigenous perspective.
The webinar schedule is:
• Preventing Māori suicide: What do we need to do? 29 January 2013 with Keri Lawson-Te Aho from 12:30 pm – 1pm
• Preventing Māori suicide: Involving whānau and community 19 February 2013 with Di Grennell and Michael Naera 12:30 – 1pm
• Preventing Māori suicide: Improving care and intervention 19 March 2013 with Dr Nicole Coupe and Dr Lynne Russell. 12:30pm-1pmWebinars are online seminars which allow presenters to interact with an audience live over the internet. Find out more and register for the webinars online here 

Early bird places at a National Not-for-Profit conference closing on 31 January. The theme is 'Sustaining real community value in tough times' and the conference takes place in Wellington next month, 19-20 February.  

Other notices

Gravida-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga PhD Scholarship Fund supports an outstanding postgraduate student engaged in research into an early start to life and fostering te pā harakeke (fostering healthy and prosperous Māori families). Applications are currently invited.  Find out more from Jane Duffy  Applications are due by the 28th of February, 2013.

Next Policy Watch is due on or around 19 February, after which, life should return to normal

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