Thanks to the widespread public concern about New Zealand’s appalling child poverty levels the government has taken a few small but positive steps towards addressing some aspects of this critical social problem.
Our most vulnerable families will be pleased to be given a modest increase in their weekly wage and the government is to be congratulated for being the first to increase the level of budget for this group since 1991’s savage 20% cuts to benefits that set structural inequality in place in this country. Today’s announcements are a good start and we look forward to further increases in the next budget. However, as pleased as these families will be, they will find the inexplicable wait from now until the increases take effect in April 2016 a wearying challenge to their families’ well-being.
The positive nature of these changes is tempered by the increased obligations being placed on sole parents at a time in their children’s lives when the bond between parent and child is most important.
Unfortunately, the increases to social services funding appear to be mainly focussed on the support government offers families directly, or to assist the operations of the Public Service. They will in no way assist New Zealand’s community social service providers as they seek to meet the deep needs of struggling families and whānau.
Indeed, in light of the changes to social service organisation funding proposed by the Ministry of Social Development, it is disturbing that the budget offers no increase in support for the community social service sector.
The current funding crisis faced by Relationships Aotearoa is in danger of offering a very sour foretaste of the community sector’s future. Social service organisations feel increasingly helpless and hopeless as they struggle to provide essential social services to clients without any increase in funding at a time when even their current funds are being actively re-allocated.
There is no indication in the budget, for example, that the government has heard calls for increased wages and conditions for care workers or for providers who deliver services to older people both in their homes and in residential care.
We also remain concerned that government social housing initiatives focus on only a small increase in income-related rents with no additional houses to be built by social housing and state housing providers. While the proposal to utilise crown land to build a range of houses, including affordable housing, may make the home ownership dream more accessible for middle-income Aucklanders, our agencies see ever increasing demand for quality low cost rental accommodation. The budget does not address this basic human right for low-income families.
Overall, it is good to see the government starting to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable New Zealanders by increasing benefits and the level of working for families support. From this small beginning we hope to see considerably more growth.
For further information, contact: Trevor McGlinchey, NZCCSS Executive Officer – (027) 286 9393 – (04) 473 2627.
New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services is the umbrella organisation of the churches’ social service agencies in Aotearoa. Our members are Anglican Care Network, Baptist Churches of Aotearoa New Zealand, Catholic Social Services, Presbyterian Support NZ, the Methodist Church and the Salvation Army.