Will Budget 2019 be transformational for children living in poverty?
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is looking to the Government to deliver a package in Budget 2019 that will truly transform the lives of children living in Aotearoa who experience the most severe poverty.
"There was very little extra for children in the 2018 Budget," says Associate Professor Susan St John, CPAG’s Economics advisor.
St John says that the Families Package that had already been announced before Budget 2018 restored some of the lost value of family assistance from July of last year, but was not the transformative change needed.
"It was not nearly sufficient to lessen the harms associated with poverty for children living below the 40% after housing costs (AHC) income level. These are children likely to be living in households reliant on welfare payments for their basic needs, says St John.
"Benefits must be improved. Families who receive a main benefit are still excluded from a major part of Working for Families, and removing that discrimination is an obvious and immediate way to provide additional weekly assistance where it is most needed."
St John says that providing families on benefits an extra weekly $72.50 would be a well-targeted expenditure, costing about $500 million, which also aligns to the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG).
"When Government taxes working people to allocate $1 billion to the New Zealand Superannuation fund, we have to ask: has it got the priorities right? Increasing the contribution for a far-away future must be weighed against the social costs of having so many young people in such desperate need now."
Professor Innes Asher, a paediatrician and Health spokesperson for CPAG, says what’s most concerning in 2019 is that the need among low-income families is not declining, with higher than ever levels of emergency financial support being provided and increased housing need evident.
"While the new Healthy Homes standards coming into effect this July are a great start to ensuring rented homes are fit for purpose, families still don’t have sufficient income to afford the bare essentials, such as decent housing," says Professor Asher.
"To be able to cover the basic costs in our society, families must have sufficient income for essentials such as food, clothing, bedding, heating, soap, towels, transport and housing which is warm, secure, safe and stable - the minimum basis for living. But also it must cover the additional costs of wellbeing, such as children being able to participate in sports or music clubs."
"The WEAG group in their February Report, stated clearly that immediate increases in income were needed, as many people are leading desperate lives with seriously inadequate income."
Professor Toni Ashton, Health Economics Advisor to CPAG says that persisting inequalities, especially in health outcomes, must be acknowledged by this Government and with Budget 2019.
"A stronger focus on equity in health and education must be a priority, especially for Māori and Pasifika children," says Professor Ashton.
"Removal of the cost and support barriers that families face is critical."
"We are still seeing high levels of unmet need for primary healthcare among children over the age of 13, so it is vital that the zero fees scheme for GP visits and prescriptions be extended to all children up to the age of 18, and we hope Budget 2019 will deliver this."
CPAG hopes history will show that Budget 2019 marked a shift to a more wellbeing-focused framing of Government budgets and priorities. As part of this it would be heartening to see the Government relax its self-imposed Budget Responsibility Rules and begin to borrow more to invest in the social and physical infrastructure of Aotearoa-New Zealand.
Frank Hogan, spokesperson on Housing for CPAG says he hopes that this Budget will prioritise such vital investment for the nation’s future, and for children who live in poverty.
"There are now 8,937 households on the waiting list for social housing, who are defined as being ‘Priority A’ - having a severe and persistent need," says Hogan.
"Budget 2019 should have an emphasis on ramping up the efforts for increasing state housing stock levels, with urgency."
CPAG’s Social Security Spokesperson, Associate Professor Mike O’Brien says that more money should be directed to the social service sector.
"These agencies provide important support and advocacy for families. Budget 2019 needs to ensure that they are adequately funded to provide that support; the current contract environment has created too many hurdles and the budget needs to reflect a fresh approach to funding and to include a significant increase in budgets which have had only limited increases over the last decade."
CPAG will deliver its child-focused analysis and commentary of Budget 2019 (announced on Thursday May 30), in a Post Budget event series being hosted across the nation in association with the Public Health Association, Soroptimists of Aotearoa, Choose Kids, and Manaia Health PHO. The events are being held on May 31 in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, June 5 in Nelson-Tasman, June 7 in Dunedin and June 12 in Whangarei.
We warmly invite all public and media to attend a presentation in your locality.