Eyes on targeted Māori funding in Wellbeing Budget

1:04 pm on 29 May 2019

Māori communities are calling for targeted funding to improve their lives and for more support for the flagship Māori policy Whānau Ora.

Well Being Budget Printing

The Wellbeing Budget will be released on Thursday. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The government has signalled that it will invest in lifting Māori incomes, skills and opportunities as part of this year's Budget, to be revealed tomorrow.

Te Oranganui Iwi Authority deals with some of Whanganui's most high-need whānau.

Whānau and Community Services Manager Teri Teki said many were facing huge struggles with the justice system, Oranga Tamariki, and especially housing.

"We have quite a few whānau coming to us in need of emergency housing or transitional housing," she said.

"More and more homes are being sold so they are requiring housing in an immediate situation. We have a lot of overcrowding now - Mum's living in sleep outs with their babies."

Last year, the government copped flack for not spending much new Budget money on Māori initiatives - instead it took a universal approach - lifting welfare support for unemployed and low-income families.

But Ms Teki said most whānau are hardly better off - even those with jobs.

"The increase in rent, the increase in kai, it just doesn't make a difference having an employed wage as opposed to a beneficiary wage - everything has gone up.

"They just don't seem to make ends meet, even with employment."

The most recent Stats NZ figures show last year, Māori earned $167 a week less in their wages and salaries compared with the overall average.

One of the government's key priorities in this year's Wellbeing Budget is to lift Māori incomes, skills and opportunities.

In pre-Budget announcements, the government has said it will spend $98 million on Māori in prison, and $320m on family and sexual violence support, including a kaupapa Māori service.

Te Oranganui Chief Executive Wheturangi Walsh-Tapiata said the universal approach has not worked for Māori, and targeted funding was essential.

"What I want to see is an investment in change - that requires some high-risk relationships, some high-trust relationships that have to be formed," she said.

"In particular, between ministries and kaupapa Māori and iwi organisations such as ourselves."

It's been a tense year for Māori organisations such as Te Oranganui, who run Whānau Ora services.

The flagship Māori policy was denied new money at last year's Budget. Instead, Whānau Ora was put under review - sparking concerns the policy was on the chopping block.

But a report back earlier this year said the Māori approach was working, and Ms Walsh-Tapiata said that calls for new funding.

"I hope to see that there is a significant more commitment by our government to Whanau Ora.

"I am saddened if we see Whānau Ora, in terms of funding, or in terms of contracts, being diminished. We will be walking alongside others to be saying that quite publicly."

Baby clothes fly out the door as soon as they're put on the racks at The Koha Shed in Whanganui.

The service gives free clothing, food and household items away and last week, manager Sherron Sunnex said more than 70 rubbish bags of winter stock was handed out.

She said Māori whānau make up a large proportion of those seeking help, and the government needs to put in real work to pull these families out of the traps of poverty.

"You've got generational poverty - and it is very hard," she said.

"Poverty not only becomes a physical thing, it becomes a spiritual and mental mind set - so it is a challenge to lift people up above that."

The government recently announced another $56m will be spent on Māori land services. Most Māori freehold land is hardly being used and not making as much money as it could.

The Koha Shed volunteer Kararaina Waitere.

Kararaina Waitere. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

The Koha Shed volunteer Kararaina Waitere lives in a caravan she bought in November after struggling to find other accommodation.

She was not raised with her Māori community, and hopes to move back to her ancestral lands between Kawhia and Raglan to reconnect with her marae.

"I don't know any history so I am going back there with an aim to move forward and bring people back to it," she said.

"I think accommodation around the marae - lifting some of the red tape so it is easier for that to happen because it is creating housing ... that's a hardship."

Franklin-based Tammy Potini sees Māori business as a form of self-determination, or mana motuhake, and hopes the Budget will reveal new spending to support Māori entrepreneurs.

In order to combat rising costs and teach their children new skills, she and her wider whānau started up a bouncy castle business called Up and Bounce four years ago.

"Mum has got 16 moko, and we have all come together to say 'Hey, it's going to be hard, so what are we going to do in this time and day for it to work for our kids'," she said.

 Tammy Potini sees Māori business as a form of self-determination, or mana motuhake - and hopes the Budget will reveal new spending to support Māori entrepreneurs.

Tammy Potini. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Ms Potini said many Māori can feel whakamā or intimidated about pursuing a business, because the sector is dominated by non-Māori.

"What the system is doing currently, it blocks us into a little space that's unbeknown to us.

"What the government should do, is put seed funding towards our whanau that have got these entrepreneurial ideas that they are sitting on. They are sitting on a gold mine, but no one is there to untap it."

"For Māori, we have always had it for ourselves, it started with our tūpuna, with our older generation, we have been entrepreneurs our whole lives," she said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden told iwi leaders at Waitangi in January having a Budget focused on Wellbeing aligns with a Māori worldview - who have always valued wellbeing.

And while many Māori leaders will be eagerly awaiting tomorrow's announcements - some remain apathetic, unconvinced that yet another Budget will make a real difference in their communities.

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