Monday 27 January 2014

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. 
Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. 
Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great.
YOU can be that great generation.
Let your greatness blossom.”
Nelson Mandela, 1913 – 2013

Happy New Year and Welcome to the First Policy Watch for 2014

New Zealand Kicks off the Year with Rock Star Equality

It’s a great start to the New Year with HSBC Paul Bloxham predicting the New Zealand economy will be the Rock Star Economy of 2014 . We are told the Canterbury re-build, dairy farming and house prices are the major sponsors behind this show. It’s the invitation to the event that we’re not so clear about - will all New Zealanders have an opportunity to see this Rock Star Economy perform? Or is it by invitation only? There are those who are sceptical about whether many will even notice this rock star flying in! The Council of Trade Unions Chief Economist Bill Rosenberg recently commented on the lack of any mechanism to transmit growing economy into wages. Improved income equality is one indicator of economic gains being spread evenly and equitably across New Zealand.  Does this all sound familiar? The merits or not of the trickle-down theory are much the same as discussed thirty years ago when neo-liberal economic policy was first introduced in New Zealand. So how about we call a truce, try a new economic approach and kick start the New Year with Rock Star Equality and start planning a show that all New Zealand receive tickets to enjoy!

Inquiry Into the Determinants of Wellbeing for Tamariki Māori

Here’s a key report from the Māori Affairs Committee to inform social and health policy going forward - Inquiry into the Determinants of WellBeing for Tamariki Māori [Dec 2013]. The report, dedicated to the late Hon Parekura Horomia, makes a total of 48 recommendations spanning the provision of services, health, education, housing, incomes and employment. This must read document takes each of the above areas and considers effective actions from a Māori worldview. If we are serious about improving the wellbeing of tamariki Māori then implementing these recommendations is a must.

Changes to Invalid Benefit Might Not be All It’s Cracked Up to be

Social welfare changes that promised improved work and health opportunities to people previously on the invalid benefit are not living up to their claims according to benefit advocacy services says Teresa Homan, Manager of the Hutt Valley Benefit Education Service Trust. Benefit changes introduced last year saw people on invalid benefits transferred onto a new Supported Living Payment category  but it seems the reality for many is a reduction of over fifty dollars a week and only basic health costs being met. Is this what was intended by an investment approach underlying the welfare reforms?

New Actuarial Valuation Report Out

The latest actuarial valuation of the welfare system, which lies at the heart of the so called investment approach, is out and comments this week suggest the welfare reforms are showing signs of ‘reduced liability’. This 225 page report is packed with actuarial analysis of benefit categories that likely support this claim. [NZCCSS is currently wading through this document so will withhold comment at this point]. One thing not clear from the report and recent comments however is what this ‘reduced liability’ means in terms of the availability of work opportunities across the country. The methodology underlying the actuarial valuation is siloed to ignore consideration of data on employment growth by worker type, by industry and labour market area? At the latest count there are 150,000 New Zealanders (6.2%) without secure employment and while there are signs of some improvements in the economy there are also all the signs that the same population groups of people are being left behind economically. So is this a 225 page report an actuarial valuation of welfare liability or of structural inequality?
…..and there are 17,000 fewer people on benefits according to new December 2013 figures.
It seems we need to thank 8,000 sole parents for their contribution to this reduction….
What these statistics don’t tell us however is what type of employment sole parents are entering, whether employers are child friendly, their employment enables training and education, appropriate and affordable after school and holiday programmes are available in their region, whether they are receiving a living wage to cover all their costs? Much more information is needed on real life experiences of sole parents on benefits in their communities before we starting to celebrate.

Here’s a pertinent comment from Manu Caddie in the Gisborne Herald about what he is seeing his local community “I’d love to see the evidence that the 1500 people who have their benefits cancelled each week are actually going into meaningful, safe and secure employment, and found ‘financial independence’ as claimed by the Minister’s massive PR machine.”  NZCCSS would like to see this evidence too.

‘Egalitarianism’ the new in word

Well - now we have the Government putting egalitarianism on their agenda. In talking about education announcements to be made today, John Key comments that "one of the great things about New Zealand is that we are an egalitarian society." And that the only way to ensure New Zealand remained an egalitarian society was to make sure the education system delivered.

It seems the government sees education as the way to reduce inequality - so they will pay principals bonuses to go and teach kids living in poverty (spot the irony in that one...). Let's have the debate about the role of education in reducing inequality and whether NZ really is an "egalitarian society"...

The debate has just started so here’s some links to the latest responses:

University of Canterbury College of Education pro-vice chancellor, Professor Gail Gillon says for education and teaching to improve social issues concerning poverty, family issues and housing must be addressed alongside educational achievement to make a real impact on a child’s educational achievement.

Metiria Turei expresses similar concern about the underlying problem of poverty and inequality will not be addressed. Put simply “Unless kids come to school with enough food and are well they are not ready to learn. It doesn’t matter what the best teacher does. If they are hungry or they’re sick, they are not going to work.”
David Cunliffe says “Kids don’t leave their lives at the school gate. When kids go to school hungry and one in five doesn’t even own two pairs of shoes, we can’t expect them to achieve.

In a similar vein..The Child Poverty Action Group welcomes extra funding targeted towards improving educational achievement but it will make only a small impact unless income inadequacy is addressed.

The Truth About the Gap Between the Rich and the Rest

Rob Salmond is quick off the mark with his response to claims in the State of the Nation Speech yesterday that question whether inequality in New Zealand is for real. Salmond points to Treasury figures that quite clearly show it is! And who are we to argue with Treasury

More on Inequality……

Inequality is unjust and stunts economic growth

Oxfam CEO Barry Coates has sent a clear message for Deputy Prime Minister Bill English to heed among the other attending the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos this week. The just-released Oxfam report on international inequality describes the costs of inequality and offers a robust policy framework to reduce inequality that every country should heed.

Consultation on Framework for Regulating Community Housing Providers

Comment is due by 7th February on the proposed framework for regulating community housing providers as part of the Government’s reform of social housing. This is an important consultation for housing providers that wish to receive Income Related Rent Subsidy (IRRS) and/or access government funding for their projects. Community Housing Aotearoa has prepared a draft submission and both this and the consultation document  are on the CHA website.

New Website launched to provide information on the aged care system

The New Zealand Aged care Association has launched a useful website aimed at removing anxiety when an ageing parent or relative may need residential care. The website provides step by step information and relevant links to take family member through the process of deciding whether or not residential care is needed and how to apply for a care assessment.

Income Tax Exemption for Community Housing Providers

Submissions on the Taxation (Remedial Matters) Bill are due on 5th February. Community Housing Aotearoa is preparing a submission on this Bill, and have noted that while they are pleased to see Government action to resolve the income tax status of the community housing sector, there is real concern that the new form of income tax exemption won’t allow the full housing continuum to work properly for supporting mixed and integrated neighbourhoods. Contact Scott Figenshow at CHA for more information and read the Bill and Parliament debates here:

Watch as NZ Defends It Human Rights Record on the world stage

NZ will report on its record on human rights, including child poverty, indigenous right, and housing, this month. You can watch a live presentation of the government's report and the interactive dialogue with UN Human Rights Council members and observer states. It will be broadcast live via UN webcast and you can watch it at from 9pm on Monday, 27 January, to 12.30am on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 (NZ time). Read submissions on from the NZ Government, Human Rights Commission and NGOs (including NZCCSS).

What’s Coming Up

NZCCSS Conference : The next Stretch

The conference theme “The Next Stretch” reflects the desire
of the sector to look ahead and respond to changes that
are happening including: Increasing demand, expectations, focus on quality, finite resources, the need for sustainability and the ability to adapt.
When : 8 - 9 May 2014
Where : Dunedin Public Art Gallery
For more information click here

The Institute for Governance and Policy Studies. Reducing Inequality Through Universal Basic Incomes

Perce Harpham
When : 31 January 2014
Where Victoria University of Wellington, Rutherford House, Ground Floor, Lecture Theatre Three, Pipitea campus
For more information go to


The Incidence and persistence of Cyclical Job Loss in New Zealand. David C. Mare and Richard Fabling. Motu Working paper 13-08. Motu Economic and Public Policy Research 2013. 

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