Policy Watch 1 May 2018

“We will measure our progress as a Government differently – by focusing on improving wellbeing and lifting living standards.”

This Policy Watch edition comes hard on the heels of the latest Kete Kupu newsletter, published last week covering in more detail the policy and social justice issues that we at NZCCSS working on. Some areas are moving fast and this Policy Watch is a catch-up to try and keep pace with the changes.

May will be an important month to assess further progress towards a fairer society, in which there would be more affordable and better quality housing, fewer people living in poverty and greater equality.

Budget 2018 – The first Budget for Finance Minister Grant Robertson will test the ability of this coalition government to follow through on policy promises with the necessary finances to make progress. He has said “We will measure our progress as a Government differently – by focusing on improving wellbeing and lifting living standards.” NZCCSS and others in the community sector will be looking to how this commitment will translate into further investment in our communities and the services that support people to live well and with dignity. While families will enjoy some benefits from the Families Package already announced, there is more to do. Many NGOs working in communities have gone nearly a decade without funding increases even as they deal with increasing need. There are many challenges ahead for this Government to reduce the social deficit and improve wellbeing for all.

Some of the things we will be hoping for in the upcoming Budget are:

  • Increased incomes for those on welfare benefits through an immediate lift in core benefit rates and indexing them to wages (as we already do for NZ Super).
  • The Budget could immediately lift the amount that can be earned before benefits are reduced. Labour’s election policy was to lift this to $150 per week.
  • Community-based social services funding needs an immediate and significant injection of funding after nearly a decade of frozen funding levels.
  • Capital funding for community housing. There are various ways this could be done, but the community housing sector has made it clear that many more affordable rental and assisted ownership house would be built if more grants or other forms of capital finance was available.

NZCCSS will be posting more on Policy Watch about the Budget as we learn more about announcements and new policy.

Child Poverty Action Group Post-Budget Breakfasts are taking place around the country. Check out where you can hear from the experts as they look at the Budget from the perspective of children living in poverty.

Take Action & Share Your Views

Ban on letting fees –  due 23rd May. Another step to improve renting is being taken with a new law on the way that will ban letting fees. Usually charged as the equivalent of one week’s rent on top of the usual 4 weeks rent as bond and 2 weeks rent in advance, these fees are an unnecessary and unfair cost to people seeking a rental home. Read more about banning letting fees here.

Ring-fencing rental losses  – due 11th May. Another step to help take the pressure off the housing market is to stop property investors offsetting losses on their rental properties against other income. Minister Stuart Nash says  “The persistent tax losses that many property investors declare on their investments indicate that they rely on capital gains to make a profit.” Read the IRD discussion document and make comment by 11th May.

The Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction is also looking for public comment. Head of this Inquiry is Ron Paterson and he is wanting the inquiry to get feedback as widely as possible. Paterson says that listening well to a wide range of communities and stakeholders is important for the inquiry.

Social Workers Registration legislation Bill

Social services umbrella group Social Service Provides Aotearoa has joined others in the sector in voicing its concerns about the “deep flaws” in the the recommendations of the Parliament Select Committee Report on the Social Workers Registration Legislation Bill that found it too hard to define a scope of practice for social workers. Here is a short summary of the report’s amendments covering key areas raised in the NZCCSS submission.

Definition of practicing as a social worker – The report recommends amending new sections 6AAB  (a), (c) and (d) to include the term ‘social workers’. The Committee’s rationale is that this will alleviate any risk of employers removing the title ‘social worker’ from job descriptions to avoid requirements for registration. This may provide some protection but NZCCSS believes a scope of practice is necessary to address this risk. 

Scope of Practice – The report argues against the authorisation of scopes of practice to provide a clearer definition of social work.  This view is based on ‘advice’ that defining ‘social work’ in a scope of practice would be ‘too difficult’.  As discussed in NZCCSS submission the Health Practitioners Competence and Assurance Act 2003 provides a viable model which could have address this issue.

Cost to the sector – The report acknowledges concerns by NGOs on the costs to the sector from registration and related costs  and recommends costs to be factored into contracts for services and funding to support workforce planning.  NZCCSS members looks forward to learning more about this.

Section 13 – The report recommends the removal of section 13, 5 years after the Bill is enacted. Those who are registered under section 13 based on previous experience would meet the criteria for full registration.  

Workforce Strategy – The report expresses interest in the health and Disability Kaiawhina Workforce Action Plan developed by Careerforce, and expresses support for the development of a workforce strategy to support training, qualifications and career pathways for on-regulated social support workers.  NZCCSS supports these recommendations. We also believe it is critical that alongside a workforce strategy, the lead agency develops an evaluation plan to identify the full impact of this Bill on the NGO sector.  

Other sector news

Emergency housing is being further increased to try and meet the expected extra demand in some areas like Auckland when winter arrives. This includes some good news for Kaikoura residents still struggling to find housing

Housing NZ has now started building houses again in places like Naenae where previously there were no plans for new developments.

We also hear from community workers in some areas that the April changes to Accommodation Supplement is bringing some relief. But it cannot stop at these first steps. A sustained commitment to reducing poverty and inequality is needed over the coming years.

Poverty levels remain high and more and more people with paid employment are turning to social services for help, report the Salvation Army, and both the Auckland and Wellington City Missions.

Action to help people access the full help they are entitled to receive is urgently needed, as recent stories have highlighted, such as a homeless woman being turned away from Work & Income and the news about the continuing increases in food grants. Changing the culture of Work  & Income and social welfare generally Minister Carmel Sepuloni has said is like trying to turn around a massive jumbo jet in mid-flight but NZCCSS hopes any any review will start sooner rather than later.

It also appears that the timing of the reduction in GP fees promised in the Labour election campaign is in question. The promise to reduce fees for adults by $10 and teenagers by $2 may not happen straight away according to Health Minister David Clark

 Microfinance expanding – Nga Tangata Microfinance has had a huge capital boost to its funding with Kiwibank more than doubling its loan capital to $500,000. More than 300 clients have been helped through loans of more than $700,000 but more requests for help are coming in, most of it for relief from high-interest debt.

The government has also announced an extension to other no-interest loans schemes funded through the BNZ and Good Shepherd New Zealand. Pacific social services provider Vaka Tuatua will join the other two loan providers, the Salvation Army and Aviva, to help offer alternatives to loan sharks.

Become a Dementia Friend  – Alzheimers NZ has launched its new Dementia Friends programme. By becoming a Dementia Friend, means learning more about dementia and the impact it has and having the chance to join a growing community of people helping to make New Zealand a more supportive, inclusive and understanding place for people living with dementia.Find out more on the Alzheimers NZ website.

Events & Conferences

PCOMS User Workshops & Train the Trainers Seminar, 22 – 25 May 2018 with Dr Barry Duncan. Find out more and register at www.exess.co.nz

Improving Child Wellbeing  – A Free Public Lecture Series 5 April – 20 July Presented by Presbyterian Support Northern. Ki te kore ngā pūtake e mākūkūngia, e kore te rākau e tupu – If the roots of the tree are not watered, the tree will never grow. Join highly respected, thought-provoking international and national experts to discuss ways to tackle child poverty and improve the wellbeing of our tamariki. Details available here: https://www.psn.org.nz/lecture-series