Budget 2017: ‘Things are seriously wrong’

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The Child Poverty Action Group has slammed the Government’s 2017 Budget, including its $2billion family incomes package, saying it does not go far enough.

Group members gathered in the city this week to respond to last week’s Budget announcement.

Associate Prof Karen Nairn said recent stories in the Otago Daily Times about people living in cars with their children or a suicidal young man being put into a motel room by himself instead of being in a mental health unit demonstrated the problems the country faced and how much it was affecting Dunedin people.

“These are signs . . . of a society where things are seriously wrong.”

More funding was required for “overwhelmed and under-resourced” services supporting children, especially in schools.

While there had been a funding increase for schools with “at-risk” children in the 2017 Budget, it only equalled an extra $2 per child – and those were the ones who qualified for the support, she said.

“New Zealand is no longer a good place for children and young people to grow up.”

She said the Government needed to look more at the “big picture” rather than giving small funding increases to individual schemes and programmes.

The Government announced last week in its Budget it will spend $2billion dollars on its family incomes package, which is set to benefit 1.3million families by an average of $26 per week. The Budget includes an increase in two income tax thresholds: from $14,000 to $22,000, and from $48,000 to $52,000.

It also includes increases in family tax credits, an accommodation supplement for a two-person household and accommodation benefit payments for students.

The changes will take effect on April 1 next year.

Malcam Trust chief executive Desiree Williams said her agency worked “holistically” with its clients and the Government would improve the country if it worked in the same way.

She said she always believed “any money to whanau” was a positive, but the $81.8million budgeted for Community Corrections and prisoner rehabilitation outweighed any funding for Kiwi families.

“So our plan is to put our babies in prison.”

Graham Pringle, of Mirror Services, said many of his clients were “stuck in a chronic pattern of coping”, and while many people did not see themselves as doing well, he said their general ability to cope “in the context of the deprivation” was something to be applauded.

He said many of his clients’ mental health issues – including severe depression – was related to the “stress of chronic poverty”.

The cuts in government funding for many social agencies was also meaning they were having to compete with each other, rather than work together, he said.

Jo McKenzie, of the Otago Youth Wellness Trust, reported more of her staff seeing families with their curtains closed all the time, which she attributed to both the shame of poverty and it enabling them to make their world “a little smaller .. so [they] can cope”.

Mrs Williams said while many people criticised low-income families spending some of their little money on cigarettes or wine, they needed to understand it might be their only way of temporarily escaping the situation they were living in.

“Ten dollars of wine [might be their] two hours of niceness in the world.”