This series has recently been reviewing the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) 2012 report “Child Poverty in New Zealand evidence for action“. Last week the government released its “response” (PDF), and I summarised the – highly negative – media coverage. In this post I am going to go through the government’s response in detail and assess the extent to which it addresses the OCC recommendations.
The response document (the PDF linked above) is poorly organised and full of waffle. I will quote much of the text below, adding my own [annotations] including [POINT #] wherever I think I can identify a clear action point. Bear with me:
II. SIGNIFICANT INVESTMENTS HAVE ALREADY BEEN MADE
The Government is focused on action to help New Zealanders with the effects of financial hardship. …
Building a stronger economy
The Government has focused on responsible fiscal management and, in particular, on strengthening New Zealand’s resilience.
Low interest rates are helping New Zealand families save more, pay down debt, and get ahead. … Personal income tax cuts have left the average family about $25 better off each week [No they haven’t, and then came the GST increase] …
Mitigating the impacts of the recession
The Government is concerned about New Zealanders on low incomes who are struggling to make ends meet, particularly those with children. … Working for Families entitlements have been protected for those on the lowest incomes and benefit levels have been increased in line with the cost of living, despite tight fiscal constraints. [No actual action, but POINT 1]
The Government is also working to improve the way that whiteware is funded for beneficiaries. [Exploring a proposal for cheaper whiteware! That’s POINT 2]
Supporting people off welfare and into work
There are clear links between welfare, financial hardship and poor health. Poverty rates for children in benefit dependent households are on average much higher than for those living in households where at least one parent is in fulltime work. [All true]
The Government is reforming the welfare system with a stronger work focus and more support to help people into work. [Yes, that is the language that you dress your beneficiary bashing up in, but there are no jobs.] In 2010, for example, abatement thresholds for benefits were increased, allowing people working part time to keep more of the money they earned. This change supported 28,000 people and their children at a cost of $53 million. [POINT 3] …
Safe and healthy homes
The Government has spent $295 million in the past three years making State homes warmer, drier and healthier. All State houses that can be insulated will be, by the end of 2013. …In addition, over 215,000 homes have already been insulated through the current Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme. [POINT 4]
Stable, nurturing families
The Government has committed over $140 million to the Whānau Ora approach, which empowers whānau and families as a whole, rather than focusing separately on individual family members and their problems. [POINT 5]
Family Start, the Government’s most intensive support programme for families that are struggling to nurture babies and young children, has been overhauled. [POINT 6]
The Government has also funded additional social workers to help families prevent and address problems. 149 extra social workers have been funded to work in low decile schools. [POINT 7]
Substantial, multiple investments have been made by the Government in teen parents, reflecting their children’s high risk of poor outcomes. … A new Youth Service and reciprocal obligations … Learning what works for young Māori parents … More Teen Parent Units … Dedicated Intensive Case Workers … Volunteer Neighbourhood Support … Parenting Support for Teen Fathers … Supported Housing for Teen Parents and their Children … . [POINT 8]
Communities and community groups play a vital role in ensuring child wellbeing and the Government backs them where it can. For example, a Community Response Fund was established in 2009 to help non-government organisations meet increased need arising from the recession. $62 million has been dispersed from this fund, in more than 1,300 grants to community groups. [POINT 9] …
A new, free phone line will make it easy for the public to raise concerns, but in the meantime, an Education Assist line has already been set up. This provides a priority avenue for teachers to report concerns they have about children. [POINT 10]…
Engagement in education
The Government is firmly focused on children’s engagement in education and success. In addition to ensuring that teaching and curricula are responsive, substantial investment is being made in making schools more positive environments for children.
Improving the school environment
A package of youth mental health initiatives was launched by the Prime Minister in 2012, with a focus on teens with – or at risk of – mild to moderate mental health issues. This package includes an expansion of Positive Behaviour for Learning School-Wide: a long-term preventive approach that supports schools to create a culture of positive behaviour. [POINT 11]…
A new programme called Check and Connect is being piloted under the Prime Minister’s package: it aims to help Year 9 students with mental health issues and to re-engage any who are disengaging in education. The youth mental health package also funds additional youth workers in low-decile secondary schools, who are working alongside expanded school-based health services in decile 1-3 schools. [POINT 12]
Supporting early childhood education
Several initiatives are planned to improve access to and participation in early childhood education by vulnerable children. [No specifics.]
Strengthening transitions and preventing disengagement
The Government has a particular focus on strengthening the transition points in the system where children tend to disengage [Nothing new here.]
The Government is tackling truancy and non-enrolment. A new attendance service was launched at the beginning of term 1 in 2013. It will support schools to reduce unjustified absence rates and non-enrolment and reduce the time taken to return students to education. Social Sector Trials are currently underway in 6 communities to test new ways of improving outcomes for 12-18 year-olds, including reducing truancy and increasing participation in education, training and employment. A further 10 trials will be rolled out in July 2013. [POINT 13] …
The Government has committed funding over the next four years to significantly expand Māori and Pasifika Trades Training. By increasing the number of training places from 600 to 3000, this expansion will leverage the need for more trades people around the country and boost the skills and earning levels of many young Maori and Pasifika. [POINT 14]
The Government has taken other concrete steps to turn around disengaged teenagers. Youth Service providers are being funded to find local disengaged 16 and 17 year olds and support them into education, training, or work-based learning. … Education Officers also now attend selected Youth Courts: their task is to re-engage young people going through the Courts in education or vocational training. [POINT 15]
A focus on priority groups
Four priority groups are currently disproportionately disengaged from and underachieving in the education system – Māori, Pasifika, students with special education needs and students from low socio-economic backgrounds. Action-oriented taskforces have been charged with ensuring there is a coherent education pipeline for these groups. [Few concrete details in this section but let’s call it POINT 16]
Children’s health services
$54 million in extra funding has been invested in improving maternity and Well Child / Tamariki Ora services, including 54,000 extra Well Child visits annually. The Government has also provided full funding for Plunketline to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. [POINT 17]
Considerable additional funding and effort has also gone into lifting children’s health. This is showing results. Nationally, child immunisation rates reached a high of 93% in June 2012 for two year olds. This includes very high immunisation rates for both Māori (92%) and Pacific children (97%). [POINT 18]
The Government has introduced free after hours GP visits for under 6 year olds. Over the last four years the Government has invested more than $81 million to provide free GP visits for children under 6 years old. [POINT 19] …
$24 million has been made available to run the Rheumatic Fever Prevention Programme in the worst affected areas over four years. [POINT 20] …
III. AREAS FOR FUTURE INVESTMENT AND CONSIDERATION
[Nothing new and concrete here.]
That’s it for the government’s response document, but let’s add in the KickStart food in schools programme too [POINT 21].
Right, how does that stack up as a response to the OCC recommendations? The graphic below maps the government response points as coloured boxes overlaying the OCC recommendations. (Click on the graphic for a bigger version.)
The OCC made several priority recommendations, both short-term (red circles) and longer term (orange circles). The only short-term priority recommendation addressed is for a food in schools program (recommendation 60), as already much discussed in the media. The only long-term priority recommendation partially addressed (recommendation 52) is extensions to after-hours care for children. All other OCC priority recommendations have not been addressed by the government.
Of the remaining recommendations, only two have been strongly addressed, these relate to teen pregnancy (recommendation 51), and a positive behaviour programme in school (recommendation 61). A variety of other recommendations have been weekly or partially addressed, but the overwhelming majority have not been addressed at all.
In short, the government’s “response” to the OCC report and recommendations is indeed a joke. It isn’t a response that all, just a list of stuff that was already happening, and it only fritters round the edges of the child poverty crisis. It hardly addresses the most serious issues raised by the OCC at all.
Click on the graphic for a large version (roughly 6.4Mb).
Here’s the standard footnote. Poverty (and inequality) were falling (albeit too slowly) under the last Labour government. Now they are on the rise again, in fact a Waikato University professor says that poverty is our biggest growth industry.
Before the last election Labour called for a cross party working group on poverty. Key turned the offer down. Report after report after report has condemned the rate of poverty in this country, and called on the government to act. Meanwhile 40,000 kids are fed by charities and up to 80,000 are going to school hungry. National has responded with complete denial of the issues, saying that the government is already doing enough to help families feed their kids. Organisations working with the poor say that Key is in poverty ‘la la land’.
The Nats refuse to even measure the problem (though they certainly believe in measurement and goals when it suits them to bash beneficiaries). In a 2012 summary of the government’s targets and goals John Armstrong wrote: “Glaringly absent is a target for reducing child poverty”…
The costs of child poverty are in the range of $6-8 Billion per year, but the Nats refuse to spend the $2 Billion that would be needed to really make a difference. Even in purely economic terms National’s attitude makes no sense.