CPAG welcomes move to qualified in-home carers

Source: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) welcomes the move by the Ministry of Education towards more professional in-home early childhood care and education (ECCE), ensuring all children in ECCE environments are accessing high quality, culturally relevant, consistent and safe educational opportunities.

Dr Jenny Ritchie, Associate Professor in the School of Education at Victoria University of Wellington, and spokesperson for CPAG agrees there is a need for qualifications for this “largely overlooked but burgeoning early childhood workforce”, considering the growing demand. But quality provision can be assured only by effective resourcing, and to date the ECCE sector has suffered chronic underfunding.

“We agree with NZEI that this is an important and overdue move, and that alongside the requirement for qualified educators, the Government must ramp up its funding to ensure that the sector is adequately resourced to provide high quality, culturally responsive services for all children, especially those affected by disadvantage, disability or who may have special learning needs,” says Dr Ritchie.

“It is vital that ERO is resourced to be able to conduct appropriate evaluations of these services. Home-based carers should be supported to continue their learning beyond the initial level four qualification, to gain a degree level qualification. They should also be linked into community hubs and provided with much greater support than a one hour per month visit from their agency.”

CPAG has been concerned that previous policy seriously undermined the value of parents providing care for their children in their early years.

“Many beneficiary families pressured to put their children into care may have opted for home-based services with an unqualified carer, as this may have been local and accessible. However, this means that their child was then being cared for by someone other than their parent, for no particular benefit and quite possibly to the child’s detriment,” says Dr Ritchie.

Dr Andrew Gibbons of AUT, also supports the move to qualified in-home carers. This aligns with the draft Early Learning Strategic Plan, which aims to ensure that all families/whānau have access to high quality ECCE provision which is responsive to diverse learning needs and cultural backgrounds.

“Its essential the opportunity is not missed to re-evaluate current teacher education to build more innovative qualification pathways, which take seriously the integration of well-being and education within home and centre settings, including looking at how different cultural and philosophical strategies can enhance learning and well-being,” says Dr Gibbons.

Dr Gibbons also hopes that more quality in-home services will reduce the burden on centres with waiting lists, and may provide families/whānau with local options that do not require them to travel extensively.

MIL OSI

Children’s voices denied in Select Committee debacle

Source: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) believes that National’s attempt to thwart Finance and Expenditure Select Committee submission hearings on the Budget Policy Statement last week has serious implications for the democratic process.

“On this particular occasion, representation for children, people affected by disability, and those facing disadvantage was denied,” says Associate Professor Susan St John, CPAG’s Economics Spokesperson.

“There are all too few opportunities to give a voice to those who may be unable to directly convey concerns about serious matters that affect their lives.”

Dr St John says that while CPAG was presenting on many of the same issues that have been brought to the Select Committee in the past, this year was important because there are new opportunities for being listened to now that the Government is committed to a well-being budget and the priority of reducing child poverty.  

“CPAG would like the government to honour its commitment to the well-being of the worst-off children with policies that go well beyond recent lifts to family incomes through changes to Working for Families (WFF) and Accommodation Supplement increases.

CPAG says investing in children’s wellbeing requires more substantive and enduring changes than have been implemented to date. These changes must be timely, and families should not have to wait a long time as they did with the overdue Families Package.

“Lifting the income of those on core benefits by around 30%, including the adding of the child tax credits together so that the worst off get an extra $72.50 a week should be an immediate response to unacceptable levels of family poverty,” says St John.

The harmful 5% cumulative inflation rule still applies to WFF. This disadvantages low-income families in times of low inflation and has no justification except as a cost-saving measure.  Treasury’s forecasts for inflation indicate that there won’t be another adjustment until April 2022.

“As well, the recent increase to abatement rates for WFF have reduced the chances that a low-income family in paid work, who earns a bit more, has to get ahead,” says St John.

“A family may find earning over the new threshold of $42700 for WFF may not be worthwhile after tax and abatements, especially if they are also getting the Accommodation Supplement. They could lose 67.50% of those extra earnings. If they are repaying a student loan this could be nearly 80%. Once their income is over $48,000 they may lose 92% of extra income because of the higher tax rate. For example, an extra $5000 might mean they are only $400 better off at the end of the year after working harder to get ahead.”

“It is simply false economics,” Says St John.

CPAG is says the decision to continue contributions to the NZ Super fund when poverty for children is so far from being solved is also highly questionable.

“Many of working age are paying the taxes both for NZ Super today and for their own NZ Super later – if they are lucky to live that long. It is more prudent for an ageing population to invest in the wellbeing of the young today.”

To read CPAG’s full submission to the Finance and Expenditure Committee on the Budget Policy Statement 2019, download it here.

MIL OSI

State of the Nation report shows little improvement for children

Source: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) welcomes the The Salvation Army’s annual State of the Nation report “Are You Well? Are We Safe?” released today, which provides an overview of how New Zealand is doing for the wellbeing of its citizens. The report has a particular focus on children, including comments on child poverty, care and protection as well as educational achievement.

The latest report shows incremental policy changes over the past few years have done little toward providing the substantial improvements which current and future generations of children need, to have equitable opportunities and to sustain good outcomes. In particular there are still large gaps for Māori children who are disproportionately represented across multiple statistics, including youth offending, education, and those in state care, compared to non-Māori.

CPAG Co-Convenor Janfrie Wakim says, “It seems clear that there have been no real successes in ameliorating the social inequities and associated health issues that are experienced by families and whānau, and it is critical that a more radical approach is needed to address reform of welfare and justice systems as well as education in Aotearoa.

“Changes need to be robust enough to have longevity, or they risk fragility and failure.”

CPAG says it is vastly concerning to see there been little in the way of change over the past four years in the nature and extent of adult violence toward children, while the number of children in state care has reached the highest ever recorded.

The increased number of children in care is only partially explained by the extension of the age of care from 17 to 18 years.

“It’s critical that we hear from Oranga Tamariki why there should be such an increase,” says Wakim.

“Is it due to changing operational priorities or increased levels of neglect and abuse of children, and are there sufficient resources within the service providers to meet the need?”

The Salvation Army report highlights consistently wide gaps between Maori and non-Maori in terms of social outcomes, a concern highlighted by the United Nations in the recent Universal Periodic Review of how New Zealand is performing on human rights issues. The UN draft outcomes report included a recommendation that New Zealand should “continue to work to enhance the rights of Māori and other indigenous minority groups in New Zealand, and provide increased rehabilitative support for Māori prisoners”.

CPAG says that as a Nation, Aotearoa should be working hard to close these gaps completely over the next 10 years.

New minimum wage legislation, the Winter Energy Payment and the Families Package have been helpful to many who have low incomes, and the report notes a slight reduction in income inequality. However, the picture is uneven, as the reduced food bank demand outcome reported is for the Salvation Army alone while other charities, such as the Auckland City Mission, report figures that show demand increasing.

“While things may have improved for those on low incomes in paid work, little has changed for people who have need of a benefit, or for their children,” says Wakim.

“The Government has placed a commendable focus on the interests of low-income working families, through recent increases to the Working for Families maximum payment threshold and the minimum wage. But many of our very worst-off children – those in families whose income is primarily from benefits, remain in severe hardship.”

CPAG believes a meaningful reduction in child poverty rates is not attainable unless the harmful inadequacy of benefit levels is addressed, and the application of harmful sanctions is abolished.

“Budget 2019 should prioritise at least a 20 per cent increase in all core benefits, and a removal of the paid work criteria from the portion of Working for Families that children supported by benefits are currently denied,” says Wakim.

MIL OSI

Back-to-school costs: A looming spiral of debt

Source: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

It’s my daughter’s first day at intermediate and my stomach is in knots. I know she’ll be ok. She knows how to slap on a fake-it-till-you-make-it grin and step out into the world. But this tactic isn’t going to work for me.

I’ve sourced second-hand uniform items, I’ve been donated stationery items and I’m still wracked with anxiety at somehow having to pay several hundred dollars for her uniform, shoes, fees and activities. And let’s not even talk about Bring Your Own Device! At this point I’m reminded of that fortunately-unfortunately campfire game. Fortunately, her dad will pay half of these costs. Unfortunately, her brother is going on school camp this year, which will add another $170 to his school costs. Fortunately, he doesn’t want to play sport this term. Unfortunately, his school bag just broke. This is the way of it, of course, single parents on low incomes are always treading water. The problem is that when we start the year facing several hundred dollars of costs, well, it’s almost impossible to keep your head up.

So I was relieved when I saw the words “we may be able to help with back to school costs” on the Work and Income website the other day. I clicked on it and my smile turned wry. This “help” is a loan. I meet the income test for this loan, but there is a sole parent asset limit of $1,794.51. Aside from being an enigmatically arbitrary number (that fifty one cents!), that amount is a paltry savings buffer for a sole parent. All you need is your car to break down or emergency dental treatment, and that’s it. You’re down to absolutely nothing. And when you’re destitute, debt is the last thing you can can afford. So, thanks but no thanks.

I’m one of the lucky ones. My mum is helping me out this year. It takes a village to pay for a child. But wait, isn’t that what we’re already doing in New Zealand? Isn’t our compulsory education supposed to be free? It strikes me that what I’m dealing with here is a struggle to find an individual solution to a collective problem. National MP Nicola Willis recently suggested lengthening the school term as a solution to parents’ struggle to fund/find childcare over the summer holidays. Putting aside the question of how effective her solution might be, I want to acknowledge that at least she’s recognised the possibility of a broad solution. I just think her question needs a bit of reframing. Because the “problem” of the cost of childcare or schooling can be taken out of this deficit model. The cost of going back to school isn’t just my “problem”, the way affordable childcare isn’t just my “problem”. This isn’t about keeping parents working or staving off the spectre of debt. This is about how we collectively find ways to give our kids what they need to thrive. Education is a social cost because we are all investing in our shared prosperity.

I asked my kids what they thought the cost of going to school should be. “Well, the thing is,” said my nine-year-old with his characteristic sagacity, “that money for books and shoes and tablets … It doesn’t go to the school.” Which is a good point. And begs the question of why we are willing to fund our MPs’ travel allowances, but not our kids’ stationery. Not to mention that if school costs were funded by taxpayers, I’d be very surprised if my daughter’s school could get away with charging $75 for a hideous pair of tartan skorts without the national media furore that it deserves.

The question is, how can we save low-income families from the looming spiral of debt caused by school costs? One answer to this question could be something like the Back to School Bonus Australia phased out in 2016. Yet any targeted grant, like Work and Income’s loan scheme, is individualised poverty stop-gapping. The thing is, every child in Aotearoa should be able to start their school year with the books, clothes and equipment they need. We can answer the same question by asking another one. We can ask how we can give our kids what they need to flourish at school. How can we make sure they all have what they need to be able to learn well, for their own future and our collective future growth? How can we can support the wellbeing of all New Zealand children so their futures are open to possibilities?

MIL OSI

The recovery phase of Christmas – is there really such a thing?

Source: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

There’s a meme circulating Facebook that expresses the anguish of Christmas being finally over … only to have kids’ birthdays to contend with in January. As far as I can tell, it’s widespread and resonates deeply for parents feeling the pinch of having to keep their pockets open and continuously flowing during what’s already an expensive time of year. That’s after having met all the expectations of extended family – who brings what to the Christmas table, who’s buying what for whom. Doubtlessly, Christmas is a bittersweet time of year for many families who simply don’t have the kind of cash flow to meet the endless costs. Forthcoming New Year’s celebrations are tinged with the pangs of additional outgoings on credit cards and other debt repayments. And then there’s back-to-school preparation.

The meme doesn’t simply imply a lack of want or a general Scrooge McDuck attitude to spending. Everyone wants the very best for their children, and wants them to enjoy the holiday like the ‘other kids’ do, and they also feel a strong pull to ‘fit in’ with other family members. They are also loaded with guilt for having January kids’ birthdays overshadowed by the hype of Christmas, when compared to the children whose birthdays are mid-year. Neither should the meme be translated as about the financial burden of parenthood, or invite speculation as to employment status. Let’s be clear. Christmas is expensive and stressful for everyone. But it’s so much more stressful if you’re struggling to pay rent, and not sure if there’s going to be money enough for grocery shopping next week.

While meeting day-to-day costs on a modest income is hard enough, the pressure of other continually increasing costs of living makes Christmas, holidays and birthdays thereafter a matter of sheer anxiety for low-income parents. Take housing, for example, arguably one of the biggest costs families face. Even a two-bedroom unit in West Auckland costs in the range of $400 to $500 per week, and that’s at the lower end of the scale. Even without children, people on lower-than-average incomes are being financially debilitated by their housing costs. Our plentiful Aotearoa is fast taking a backward slide into the class-based society of yesteryear where churches and charities took care of the needy. But as costs rise faster than incomes – especially for those in the lowest income brackets, more people are sliding into that “needy” category. In the week before Christmas, the Auckland City Mission gave out more than 12000 food parcels and presents to those who simply could not afford to survive over the period, let alone buy gifts for children. Most of the people lining up before doors opened for service were mothers with children. Many of whom had some form of employment. Many lacked a permanent home. Community Facebook pages were also awash with cries for help.

Doing Christmas ‘on the cheap’ is not as easy as many suggest it is, and often even with the best of intentions those who try still end up spending more than they can afford, potentially having to fall back onto credit to do so. Even preparing homemade gifts for the hordes comes with a significant outlay. And, birthdays in January aside, there are further costs associated with having extended family and other children stay over the holiday, expensive school holiday programmes, holiday entertainment, additional food, the list goes on. There may be unpaid time off work if holiday pay has been exhausted and work has shut down, and parents may be on casual contracts that don’t pay over the break.

Come January, recovery from the cost of Christmas is nowhere in sight, and there are the back-to-school costs to contend with. As is usual, there are school fees expected to be paid (sometimes at a discounted rate for early birds, putting pressure on to reduce the overall cost but to pay faster). Even though the ‘fees’ are technically a ‘donation’, there are often certain privileges that children may not have access to unless fees are paid, such as school camps and extra-curricular activities. Stationery gets more costly every year, and as children get older, there are increased expectations from schools for parents to provide more expensive items such as digital devices – extra costs that are becoming the norm. Uniforms, new bags, drink bottles, lunch boxes to replace last years worn out ones. Another long and costly list.

Families could really use a bit of help here.

In the colder season, there’s now a Winter Energy Payment (WEP), the purpose of which is to provide some people extra help with the additional costs of keeping the home warm over winter. And it is indeed a worthwhile initiative from the Labour-led coalition Government. People on benefits (including many on pensions) often struggle during this time, and for those eligible recipients, the extra $30 or so is welcomed. But it doesn’t go far, and it’s sorely missed when it ends all too quickly. For parents however, the bell-curve of cost increases is not as black and white as the power bill in wintertime. Costs escalate at all other times of the year, costs that are often are met by credit cards and loans from high-interest fringe lenders that create another layer of weekly outgoings, often lasting into subsequent years, compounding with each round of borrowing. Furthermore, struggling working families who miss out on additional supports, such as the narrowly-targeted WEP, see no respite even in winter.

There is logic in the WEP and yet none. Especially when some wealthier pensioners get it automatically, and while we are still waiting for a systemic response to the burden of poverty that is afflicting more and more families with children, whose costs continue to rise throughout the year.

This time last year, the Government flipped a switch and gave eligible tertiary students an extra $50 a week. It’s time they flipped a switch for children, on the so-called “In-Work” tax credit, and gave low-income beneficiary families and those who are in paid work but don’t meet the minimum hours criteria an additional $72.50 per week, to give them the real boost they need, for their children, to get through these evermore costly times.

Image credit: rawpixel

MIL OSI

MIL-OSI New Zealand: The recovery phase of Christmas for low-income families – or is there one?

Source: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

There’s a meme circulating Facebook that expresses the anguish of Christmas being finally over … only to have kids’ birthdays to contend with in January. As far as I can tell, it’s widespread and resonates deeply for parents feeling the pinch of having to keep their pockets open and continuously flowing during what’s already an expensive time of year. That’s after having met all the expectations of extended family – who brings what to the Christmas table, who’s buying what for whom. Doubtlessly, Christmas is a bittersweet time of year for many families who simply don’t have the kind of cash flow to meet the endless costs. Forthcoming New Year’s celebrations are tinged with the pangs of additional outgoings on credit cards and other debt repayments. And then there’s back-to-school preparation.

The meme doesn’t simply imply a lack of want or a general Scrooge McDuck attitude to spending. Everyone wants the very best for their children, and wants them to enjoy the holiday like the ‘other kids’ do, and they also feel a strong pull to ‘fit in’ with other family members. They are also loaded with guilt for having January kids’ birthdays overshadowed by the hype of Christmas, when compared to the children whose birthdays are mid-year. Neither should the meme be translated as about the financial burden of parenthood, or invite speculation as to employment status. Let’s be clear. Christmas is expensive and stressful for everyone. But it’s so much more stressful if you’re struggling to pay rent, and not sure if there’s going to be money enough for grocery shopping next week.

While meeting day-to-day costs on a modest income is hard enough, the pressure of other continually increasing costs of living makes Christmas, holidays and birthdays thereafter a matter of sheer anxiety for low-income parents. Take housing, for example, arguably one of the biggest costs families face. Even a two-bedroom unit in West Auckland costs in the range of $400 to $500 per week, and that’s at the lower end of the scale. Even without children, people on lower-than-average incomes are being financially debilitated by their housing costs. Our plentiful Aotearoa is fast taking a backward slide into the class-based society of yesteryear where churches and charities took care of the needy. But as costs rise faster than incomes – especially for those in the lowest income brackets, more people are sliding into that “needy” category. In the week before Christmas, the Auckland City Mission gave out more than 1200 food parcels and presents to those who simply could not afford to survive over the period, let alone buy gifts for children. Most of the people lining up before doors opened for service were mothers with children. Many of whom had some form of employment. Many lacked a permanent home. Community Facebook pages were also awash with cries for help.

Doing Christmas ‘on the cheap’ is not as easy as many suggest it is, and often even with the best of intentions those who try still end up spending more than they can afford, potentially having to fall back onto credit to do so. Even preparing homemade gifts for the hordes comes with a significant outlay. And, birthdays in January aside, there are further costs associated with having extended family and other children stay over the holiday, expensive school holiday programmes, holiday entertainment, additional food, the list goes on. There may be unpaid time off work if holiday pay has been exhausted and work has shut down, and parents may be on casual contracts that don’t pay over the break.

Come January, recovery from the cost of Christmas is nowhere in sight, and there are the back-to-school costs to contend with. As is usual, there are school fees expected to be paid (sometimes at a discounted rate for early birds, putting pressure on to reduce the overall cost but to pay faster). Even though the ‘fees’ are technically a ‘donation’, there are often certain privileges that children may not have access to unless fees are paid, such as school camps and extra-curricular activities. Stationery gets more costly every year, and as children get older, there are increased expectations from schools for parents to provide more expensive items such as digital devices – extra costs that are becoming the norm. Uniforms, new bags, drink bottles, lunch boxes to replace last years worn out ones. Another long and costly list.

Families could really use a bit of help here.

In the colder season, there’s now a Winter Energy Payment (WEP), the purpose of which is to provide some people extra help with the additional costs of keeping the home warm over winter. And it is indeed a worthwhile initiative from the Labour-led coalition Government. People on benefits (including many on pensions) often struggle during this time, and for those eligible recipients, the extra $30 or so is welcomed. But it doesn’t go far, and it’s sorely missed when it ends all too quickly. For parents however, the bell-curve of cost increases is not as black and white as the power bill in wintertime. Costs escalate at all other times of the year, costs that are often are met by credit cards and loans from high-interest fringe lenders that create another layer of weekly outgoings, often lasting into subsequent years, compounding with each round of borrowing. Furthermore, struggling working families who miss out on additional supports, such as the narrowly-targeted WEP, see no respite even in winter.

There is logic in the WEP and yet none. Especially when some wealthier pensioners get it automatically, and while we are still waiting for a systemic response to the burden of poverty that is afflicting more and more families with children, whose costs continue to rise throughout the year.

Last year the Government flipped a switch and gave eligible tertiary students an extra $50 a week. It’s time they flipped another switch on the so-called “In-Work” tax credit, and gave low-income beneficiary families and those who are in paid work but don’t meet the minimum hours criteria an additional $72.50 per week, to give them the real boost they need to get through these evermore costly times.

MIL OSI New Zealand

MIL-OSI New Zealand: Benefit data shows families cannot wait till Budget 2019 announcements

Source: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

The latest benefit data from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) provides cast iron evidence that current levels of welfare benefits and Working for Families tax credits are far too inadequate to meet the everyday needs of families who rely on social assistance, says Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

The latest statistics from MSD show that in the December quarter, a total of $100 million was spent on emergency grants for necessities such as food and housing, an increase of 40% over the previous December quarter. During the same period in 2018, 6000 fewer sanctions were applied, compared to 2017.

While this may indicate that the rules are less stringent as the Government endeavours to make sure people get the assistance they need, it also indicates a rise in desperation.

With increased hardship spending, the demand for charities to fill the need might have been expected to fall, but that has been far from the case. Food banks, such as the Auckland City Mission, were overwhelmed by the increased need over the 2018 Christmas period.

Associate Professor Susan St John, CPAG Economics spokesperson, says that families and children cannot get by simply on the Government’s good intentions.

“The latest hardship expenditure data provides further evidence that the Families Package has not had the reach into the homes of those worst off, that was sorely needed,” says St John.

A 2018 paper by CPAG shows that families on benefits, with the very lowest incomes, did not get nearly the boost they needed.

“While there was some relief in the Accommodation Supplement increases, much of those increases were quickly swallowed up in the ongoing effects of New Zealand’s housing crisis,” says St John.

Many who had increases in Accommodation Supplement also found they qualified for correspondingly less Temporary Additional Support payments as the latest statistics show.

CPAG believes there is no need to wait for the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report to know that families do not have enough money to meet their reasonable needs.

“It is simply inefficient, demeaning and time consuming for so many to have to continually apply for additional assistance because the basic benefit is too low,” says St John.

CPAG calls on the coalition Government to increase welfare benefits by at least 20% immediately and index to wages like New Zealand Superannuation. To support the wellbeing of children, all low-income families should get the full Working for Families tax credit package, increasing their weekly incomes by $72.50 immediately. Families and others on benefits have had to wait too long, and should not have to wait for Budget 2019 and later thereafter, for the changes they so desperately need.

MIL OSI New Zealand