20 May 2022

Māori health workers unsure how far Budget funding will go

6:47 am on 20 May 2022

Māori health and social workers say the funding announced in yesterday's Budget will do little to help ease their burden, or close equity gaps.

Grant Robertson announcing Budget 2022

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The government has called its spend on Māori health a gamechanger, with $168 million announced for the Māori Health Authority, which launches in July.

Labour's Māori caucus stood proudly at the podium yesterday: $1.2 billion for Māori, more than half of that to Māori health.

"We're very proud to announce the highest Māori budget in the history of government," Māori development minister Willie Jackson said. "So we're really proud to present that targeted budget to our people."

The centrepiece, Te Mana Hauora - the new Māori Health Authority - is in line for $168 million over the next four years - $33m in the first year, and $45m annually after that.

"We know that it will be a hard beginning for them, we are very excited we have worked hand in hand with providers and we know there is a lot of support for the pūtea we have there," Jackson said.

But after a year where the work of Māori health providers, and the inequities they endure, were in the spotlight, some expected a little more.

Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency director of health reforms Lance Norman said compared to the $11b spend for health overall, $168m for Māori pales in comparison.

"If you divide that by four years and then divide it by 800,000 Māori who live in New Zealand, you get to about $50 per person to address the health discrepancies that we have," he said.

"And then when I look at $11.1 billion into the whole health system you could say that is disproportionate relative to the need we have in our communities."

Great hope has been placed in Te Mana Hauora, which has been formed as a means to resolve decades of well-documented inequities: Māori die younger, and suffer higher rates of illness.

Māori health providers have also been underfunded for decades, receiving far less than other organisations providing the same services.

Waikato's Te Kohao health senior manager Tureia Moxon said the pūtea would no doubt benefit Māori, calling it a run on the board.

But he said more would have to be allocated next year, if it was going to address the plethora of health inequities Māori face.

"It's a step in the right direction, we have funds available to us that we didn't have before so we can help more people with more intensive help to the whānau that need it," he said.

"But I would like to see in the future that increased because the need is there."

Geoff Milner (Ngāti Pōrou) is at the helm of Ngati Hine Health Trust.

Ngāti Hine Health Trust chief executive Geoff Milner. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Whangārei's Ngāti Hine Health Trust chief executive Geoff Milner welcomed the funding, calling it a cause for optimism.

"All of us shouldn't expect just one entity called the Māori Health Authority to carry the burden of 180 years of non-delivery for Māori," he said.

"Perhaps another way of looking at it is that the Māori Health Authority has a budget that provides real creativity, innovation out there on the edge."

Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare insisted what was announced on Thursday was just one part, and it will go a long way to improve Māori health.

"We want to point out there is a lot of money sitting in the system, in fact we approximate it to be $1.2 billion over the next four years alongside Health NZ, and will have the ability to commission for Kaupapa Māori services," he said.

The Budget also included $167m for Whānau Ora, to support and grow its agencies' approach to health and social services.

Lance Norman said that was welcome, though he was not sure how far it would go.

"In reality we know we need much more than there, it is quite a bit of struggle at the moment. Covid is still a big issue, getting access to kai, medical appointments etc, we are seeing some significant issues and it doesn't seem proportionate," Norman said.

The money targeted for Māori was on top of other funding to help ease the financial pressures faced by whānau across the country, like the $350 cost of living payment.

South Auckland's Turuki Health kaiwhakahaere Te Puea Winiata said she was seeing an increasing number of whānau who needed health and social services.

"Three-hundred-and-fifty dollars is a hard one really, to say that it's going to be really useful over the next few months, but a lot of our whānau are dealing with a significant amount of debt, debt created because they were having to borrow at high interest rates on that borrowing to make ends meet," Winitana said.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said it was just the beginning and would build on past investments and "make sure that our investment matches with the capacity to deliver it."

On top of health and Whānau Ora, there was other money for Māori education, training, housing and business programmes.

There was more funding for Te Matatini, and other support for reo and culture.

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