19 May 2023

Budget 2023: Targeted support welcomed but projects need securing 'for long-term' - agencies

12:19 pm on 19 May 2023
Open food parcel

Families and children would benefit from some support in the Budget, social services providers said, but others would miss out. Photo: RNZ Insight / Sarah Robson

Social support agencies welcomed practical and targeted funding in the Budget they believe will help some children and families, but they say short-term funding to projects leaves initiatives facing instability.

Save the Children advocacy director Jacqui Southey said she appreciated the effort to provide "targeted investment in children and their families", particularly in ECE funding, public housing, public transport and free prescriptions.

"While it won't solve all the problems being experienced by families during the current cost-of-living crisis, it was good to see some wins for families, including those with our youngest children.

"The increased investment in Whānau Ora to provide care for wāhine hāpu and the first 1000 days for their pēpi, is a crucial investment to ensuring pēpi Māori do well.

"Extending funding to provide 20 hours free early childhood education for families for two years will also provide a real lift for families struggling to access quality ECE - an essential service for our country's youngest."

Jacqui Southey.

Jacqui Southey Photo: Supplied

Southey said an extension to the "vital" healthy school lunches programme was good, but needed to be secured for the long-term.

"Healthy food should not be a nice to have, or a luxury, it is an essential need, directly affecting the health, mental and physical health of child."

The Salvation Army's Ian Hutson said this year's offerings were "no game changer" when it came to the cost of living.

"The Budget includes no announcements of increased income support for those on lower incomes and shows that in 2024, at least one of the primary measures of child poverty is expected to worsen."

It was encouraged by the aim to boost social housing by 3000 homes during the next two years and the widening of early childhood education fees payments and of public transport subsidies, and continued funding for financial mentoring and assistance with food insecurity.

Andrew Wilson, Queenstown Salvation Army

A food parcel ready to go out from the Queenstown Salvation Army (file photo) Photo: RNZ / Belinda McCammon

Hutson was hopeful funding in the Budget to cover the $5 charge for prescriptions at pharmacies could help break what it called a vicious cycle of ill-health within the country's most vulnerable communities.

"I'm sure that there's going to be a lot of people who will be able to get the... prescription... where they couldn't before."

Business and Māori development professor Ella Henry told Checkpoint many people had difficulty affording the cost of prescriptions and the funding would make a real practical difference for many who were doing it tough.

"Yes, you can get a free prescription from a Chemist Warehouse, but guess what? Those are only in the cities. They're not in the poor areas where people have to scrimp and save for petrol to come to town once a week and where $5 on a prescription is a lot of money," she said.

More than 200 non-profit social service organisations are members of Social Service Providers Te Pai Ora o Aotearoa (SSPA).

SSPA chief executive Dr Claire Achmad said some of the new investment would "make a difference in the lives of every-day families and whānau, lifting some pressure".

Dr Claire Achmad, General Manager Advocacy from Barnardos

Claire Achmad Photo: supplied

"It's positive to see the Budget removing prescription co-payments, extending 20 hours free early childhood education to two-year olds, and making public transport permanently free for children under 13 and half-price for rangatahi.

"Other Budget initiatives we are pleased to see are in the areas of family and sexual violence prevention and response, cyclone recovery, free school lunches, and the wellbeing of hapū māmā, whānau and pēpi in their first 1000 days."

But it said the time-limited nature of the funding did not create at stable long-term investment for those vulnerable groups and for social services, and that "there are some notable gaps in investment," particularly when it came to helping low-income families and whānau.

"The community-based social services sector has been inequitably and under-funded for decades. In line with the times we are in, where more people are having to turn to social services for help this really needed to be the Budget that finally made a significant commitment to sustainable, long-term funding for community-based social services. This would have helped both now and intergenerationally."

The $168.1m across four years for health agency Whānau Ora services was welcomed by South Island Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, which echoed the SSPA's warning that temporary funding was good but only offered limited stability.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 30: The Te Whanau O Waipareira vax team help vaccinate locals in Papakura as part of Whanau Ora campaign on November 30, 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Whanau Ora contributed to the Covid-19 vaccination drive Photo: 2021 Getty Images

Chief executive Ivy Harper said the funding endorsed "the already well-established Whānau Ora Navigator network of partners and entities in communities right across Te Waipounamu".

"But I think rather than look at Whānau Ora investment on its own, it is time for all... government departments and agencies across the board... to start engaging in whānau-led approaches. We do hope to see more of a multi-agency approach to delivering support and investment to enable whānau-led solutions."

Gena Moses-Te Kani, co-chairperson of Te Taumata - an iwi board that governs Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu - said extra support for whānau in the form of better access to early childhood education, scrapping prescription co-payments and free public transport for under 13 years would help ease financial pressures for whānau.

And $200m to support iwi, hapū and Māori organisations develop and supply long-term housing to whānau via Whai Kāinga Whai Oranga also got a tick from Moses-Te Kani.

Child Poverty Action Group economic spokesperson Susan St John said the Budget did not help families struggling to put food on the table.

"Yes there are some 'nice to haves' and we're pleased about the prescription charges and better transport arrangements, and better childcare - those things are good.

"But the heart of the problem is that we have thousands of families who cannot feed themselves because they do not have enough money left over at the end of the week.

"They're going to food banks or they're going to second tier lenders or going to Work and Income and having to spend precious time arguing for top ups.

"This is not an efficient way to run an economy."

She was disappointed at no mention of reforms to Working for Families; such as adding the in work tax credit and the family tax credit together, so all low income families would get the full package.

The threshold where earnings affect Working for Families payments should have been raised, she said. "That has been fixed for many years at $42,700 - and that's for a family ... it's absurdly low."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson rejected criticism the Budget would not help families struggling to put food on the table.

Robertson told Nine to Noon it included a range of measures to help families.

He said inflation was forecast to come down, and he believed changes to promote competition in the supermarket sector would also help cut food prices.

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