Greens see red despite benefit increases – but Michael Cullen could tell them (and the Ardern government) what safety nets are all about

The Ardern  government has  made  “well-being”  such  a  focus  of  its  policies  that many  New  Zealanders  think  it  is   now  the  way  forward.

Labour’s ally, the  Green Party, is so enamoured  with  the  “well- being”  philosophy  it  sharply criticised   the  government for raising the  level of  main  benefits  “by less than $8 a week” from April 1.

“We have a poverty crisis in NZ, and we must go further and faster to deliver income support that enables everyone to live with dignity,” says Green Party spokesperson for Social Development & Employment Ricardo Menéndez March.

“The government currently expects a single person over 25 years old to be able to get by on just $250.74 a week, and they’re supposed to celebrate that rising to $258.51. That extra eight dollars isn’t even enough to buy a block of cheese.”

Menendez  March  says it is  “disingenuous”  of  the  government to continue to say indexing benefits to wages is the best thing they could have done, and 

” … even the Children’s Commissioner said they need to be bold and courageous, and actually lift benefits.

“Indexation of benefits to wages means little without a substantive lift in core benefits to close the gap which has continued for decades.”

Continue reading “Greens see red despite benefit increases – but Michael Cullen could tell them (and the Ardern government) what safety nets are all about”

Widening gap between the “haves” and “have nots” is the burning issue for Ardern’s government to tackle

When  a  journal   as influential  as  “The Listener” flags  the  great  divide between  the  “haves”  and  the “have nots” as the  legacy of the Covid pandemic, it’s an issue  which should be  consuming   the  attention  of every politician — especially  the politicians in a government  with  ministers  who see  themselves wearing  the  mantle  of  Michael  Joseph  Savage.

The Ardern government has not  hesitated  to  throw money  at  the problem, as  other  governments  have done,  and  massive  stimulus  from  the Reserve  Bank  has helped  get the economy   back  on track. 

But, as  economist Cameron Bagrie points out  in “The Listener’s” study,  not  everyone has been a  winner. He  says  the  K-shaped  recovery has exposed pre-existing tension points  such as race  and gender  and  who bears the brunt of a  lift in unemployment.

“There’s  the perceived gap between the haves and the have-nots,  with  soaring  house prices at the epicentre. And  at the  very time we  are dealing  with that, the  financial cost of  our  ageing population is rising rapidly. By 2035, a  massive two-thirds of  welfare  benefit spending is projected to be spent on NZ Superannuation—and that’s not  counting  the growing  health costs”, says Bagrie.     

Covid  has exacerbated  inequality and driven  holes in the social  welfare   safety  net. Continue reading “Widening gap between the “haves” and “have nots” is the burning issue for Ardern’s government to tackle”

Child poverty measures show improvements – but the PM is pressed to pump more money into income support

All  nine child poverty measures showed downward trends, compared  with  two years  ago, Statistics  NZ reports.

Hurrah!  Another  victory  for  Prime Minister Jacinda  Ardern, it seems.

After  all, she made it  clear   as  she took office that the defeat  of  child  poverty  was her  special priority.

So  what’s  this grumbling from the Child  Poverty Action Group?

The poverty  statistics,  although not  surprising, are “deeply disappointing” and for  families  with disabilities  they are “absolutely shocking”, according to Professor Innes  Asher, chair  of the CPAG.

Most of the nine measures showed no statistical change over the 21 months to March 2020.

“We’ve long said that poverty for children is a huge problem and doing just a little bit will not be enough. We urgently need the government to raise income support significantly for our children in families receiving benefits, and the government needs to use a multi-pronged approach to tackling the housing crisis.

“Incrementalism isn’t working. Persistently delaying implementing the bulk of the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group isn’t working.”

The Children’s Commissioner, Andrew Becroft,  chimed in  that the  government needs  to apply  “big, bold initiatives”.

The  first  priority must  be to lift benefits, he says.

The worry (both critics say) is that they know child poverty will have increased due to COVID-19. The data released this week was collected before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly one out of every five families living with disabilities live in material hardship, more than double the rate of families with no disabled members, the CPAG says.

“Discrimination is the reason why children who are disabled, or who have a disabled caregiver or sibling, are more likely to go without,” says Professor Asher.

“It doesn’t have to be this way, and it absolutely should not be this way. Other countries such as the UK acknowledge families with disabilities have greater expenses, and they support those families so they are no more likely to live in material hardship than others.”

Among the nine measures, the one bright note is that material hardship has definitely reduced overall (in a statistically significant way) from 13.2% to 11%.  That’s a reduction of around 24,000 children, and is likely (although not definitely) to have reduced somewhat for young Māori, from around 22.6% to 19% – around 11,000 young Māori may no longer live in material hardship.

“We expect that we’re probably seeing the effects of the Winter Energy Payment, the extension of free doctors visits to all those aged 13 and under, but also the mushrooming of private charity – food bank numbers have increased massively over the last few years,” says Professor Asher. 

However, material hardship rates for Māori and especially Pacific children are still far above national rates overall: nearly one in five Māori children (19%) live in material hardship (around 54,000 children), and more than one in four Pacific children (25.4% or around 37,000 children) compared with just over one in ten children overall (11% or 125,000 children).

Overall, 168,000 children are still in the severest income poverty, below the 40% income poverty line.

Perhaps  then it is  not  quite  the policy  triumph government  flaks  would  have us believe.

Still, the  Prime  Minister  says:

“We are still working  on it”.

And  the  Finance  Minister Grant  Robertson  is chuffed    that    NZ’s  sovereign currency ratings  have been raised by international agency S&P  on the basis  of  a  stronger-than-expected  recovery.

“The  real thing for  me  is that this is the first upgrade  that  Standard and Poors have done since pandemic, so I think that is  a real sign of  confidence in  our  recovery.  The  other  thing that is  important  is the general confidence   that will flow through, not  only  for NZ  businesses, but  also  for international  businesses, people  looking to invest”.

That’s  for certain:  NZ will need huge investments coming in if eventually it  is  to formulate  the policies  that  will  rid it of child poverty.

As  the  experts  say, the government will have to change its policy so that all low-income families with children are allowed to access all family assistance – currently  children in severest poverty are denied full access to key family assistance because their caregivers receive a benefit.

Children’s Minister explains what he expects from his all-Maori advisory team while the Nats respond by saying … nothing

Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis believes the Crown should maintain responsibility for the care and protection of at-risk and vulnerable children, regardless of their race.

Moreover, he is confident his all-Maori  team of advisers will not be taking race into account as they help to improve Oranga Tamariki’s care and protection of children.

Whether all members of the team got this message is another matter.

Matthew Tukaki (the bloke who sees nothing amiss in deriding MPs who raise questions that vex him as “baboons”) is chair of the new ministerial advisory group on Oranga Tamariki.

He is on record as saying reforming the agency is a chance to make real change for Māori.

“It’s about entrenched poverty. It’s about lack of housing, mental health, addiction services primary health, the loss of jobs, you name it, it’s a multiplicity of different things. So we are charged with looking at how we take these different reports and recommendations, the issues on the table today, the things in particular Māori have been talking about for years now, and effect real change,” Mr Tukaki says.

Similarly, Dame Naida Glavish said the tough job would be “putting the pieces back together” for Māori.

“The tough job will be initiating and instilling whānau, hapū, iwi trust in a service that they haven’t had any trust in – or any reason to trust – in the last few years. That’s where the hard work is.”

Dame Naida said she was “absolutely” pleased chief executive Grainne Moss had resigned. “But it’s not about her now, it’s about us fixing up a broken system.”

In light of the Minister’s assurance about the advisory team’s focus being on all children in Oranga Tamariki care or requiring its protection, regardless of their race, we must suppose these advisers have been misreported.

The assurance was given in response to questions Point of Order put to the Minister about his appointments:

What are the reasons for the Minister appointing no non-Maori to the expert group?

 I have selected and appointed well-respected members of the community to the Ministerial Advisory Board, who each bring with them valuable expertise. When making the appointments I took into account their seniority, experience and standing in New Zealand. They will play a key role and their advice will help us improve the child care and protection system for all children and young people who come into contact with Oranga Tamariki – whether they’re Maori or non-Maori.

Does the Minister have any sympathy with the arguments promoted for a Mokopuna Authority (Māori for Māori by Māori)? 

 I met with Oranga Tamariki leadership and senior officials just before Christmas to outline my priorities and areas of focus in this portfolio. Those priorities include focusing on enhancing relationships with whānau and Māori, and starting to entrust funding and decision-making to Māori and to people on the ground in our regions.

However, I don’t accept that the Crown should absolve itself of its responsibility to care for and protect our at-risk and vulnerable children, whether they’re Maori or non- Maori.

I believe we need to reshape Oranga Tamariki and fix the system, to do better for our children and young people.

There isn’t a single, homogeneous view from Maori about how the system should work. Different Maori communities, hapū and iwi have different ideas of how they want to be involved.

So we need to engage with hapū, iwi and Māori about their capacity, their capability and their will to become involved and what their solutions are, what a partnership looks like to them.

And does the Minister believe he would be ill-advised to make decisions based on the information and recommendations he should already have received in several reports on the performance of Oranga Tamariki? 

 My decision-making in this portfolio has been and will be informed by a range of sources.

As soon as I became the Minister I began a schedule of meetings with various officials, with stakeholders, with Māori – including some of Oranga Tamariki’s harshest critics – to help develop the Government’s priorities and aspirations for children, particularly tamariki Māori.

I’ve considered the various reports and reviews, our Government’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy and the feedback from iwi and Māori.

The Waitangi Tribunal is also currently assessing whether the Ministry’s legislation, policies and practices are consistent with te Tiriti o Waitangi, and I will be listening intently to the Tribunal.

Outside of formal reporting and data, what is also needed is real time information about Oranga Tamariki and its progress, operations and performance, and certainty that its future direction is understood and becoming entrenched – this is what the Advisory Board will help provide.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency Chair, is among those who might want greater separatism in the restructuring of the state system for protecting and caring for children.

She said she wants Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss’ decision to resign to be the catalyst for Māori leadership of an organisation in which seven of every 10 children are Māori.

Diversity was not part of her prescription for improvement:

“It’s a big organisation, but Pākehā don’t have the cultural competency, they don’t have the networks. I honestly don’t believe they have the long-term interest in the safety of the children,” Raukawa-Tait told The AM Show on Monday morning.

“This is our time to step up and do what we have to do. We would’ve done that long ago given the opportunity, but it’s always been the Government – and particularly Pākehā – saying ‘we know what’s best for you’. We’re saying, right now, ‘hands off our tamariki – no more’.

“It really is about the solutions by Māori, for Māori, with Māori as soon as possible.”

Davis’s all-Maori team might not be enough to mollify all Maori leaders who have been railing against Oranga Tamariki’s management and operational practices.  The Opposition seems to be indifferent.

When asked this morning, a National press officer said no statements had been issued on the matter.

Kelvin Davis appoints a team of four (with no places for Pakeha) to advise him on Orangi Tamariki and child welfare

After a raft of inquiries delving into and recommending what should be done about the politically beleaguered Orangi Tamariki, along with the briefing papers we suppose he has been given, we imagined Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis would have no more need for expert advice.    

Wrong.  He has just appointed “a skilled and experienced group of people” as the newly established Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisory Board.

The group (an  all-Maori team) will begin work on 1 February and Davis expects an initial report (to add to the advice provided by the other reports) by 30 June.  

The board’s appointment was one of three fresh announcements from the Beehive.

The others were 

  • Work begins today at Wainuiomata High School to ensure buildings and teaching spaces are fit for purpose; and 
  • The green light for New Zealand’s first COVID-19 vaccine could be granted in just over a week.  

Continue reading “Kelvin Davis appoints a team of four (with no places for Pakeha) to advise him on Orangi Tamariki and child welfare”

Begorrah – Irish Moss brings relief to a leftie blogger who was discomforted by a foreign accent

Contrasting reactions to news of Grainne Moss’s resignation as Oranga Tamariki chief executive inevitably can be found in the blogosphere.

Lindsay Mitchell has recorded the ACT Party’s response to the resignation and hailed it as “spot on”.

The statement was made in the name of Karen Chhour, described as a part-Maori who grew up in foster care and hence has first-hand experience of Child, Youth and Family intervention:

“Oranga Tamariki (OT) will remain ungovernable and continue to fail children unless it’s allowed to focus on the one thing it was established to do, ensure the wellbeing of children,” says ACT’s Social Development and Children spokesperson Karen Chhour.

On the other side of the left-right-divide, Martyn Bradbury’s first instinct – an unabashed illiberal expression of intolerance – was to express relief at “not having to listen to Grainne Moss’s thick Irish accent lecture us about why the State needs to steal Māori children …”

Curiously, Bradbury seems to be arguing for the government to get out of the business of looking after the welfare of the country’s beaten and/or poverty-stricken children. Continue reading “Begorrah – Irish Moss brings relief to a leftie blogger who was discomforted by a foreign accent”

The case for putting stability and security above other factors when deciding a child’s best interests (and they are colour-blind)

The inexorable march to separatism – manifest in the political clamour to have Maori children removed from the protection of state welfare agencies – raises questions which most commentators have overlooked or prefer not to tackle. 

Lindsay Mitchell is not so coy.  She asks if the future of a child with a modicum of Maori blood should be decided solely by Maori members of a family and raises the matter of the rights and claims of non-Maori family members.    

Rights were brought smack-bang into the issue when the Human Rights Commission threw its support behind calls by the Children’s Commissioner for urgent action to keep at-risk Māori children with their wider  family.

In effect, these authorities are telling us the rights of Maori family members outweigh the rights of non-Maori family members.   

The Children’s Commissioner this month published the second of two reports on a review of what needs to change to enable Māori aged 0-3 months to remain in the care of their families in situations where Oranga Tamariki-Ministry for Children is notified of care and protection concerns

The key recommendation in the report is for a total transformation of the statutory care and protection system. Continue reading “The case for putting stability and security above other factors when deciding a child’s best interests (and they are colour-blind)”

Beehive beneficence brings some cheer to workers made redundant by Covid-19 – but then comes a chorus of carping

A great deal of disgruntlement was generated by the one press statement to be released from the Beehive yesterday.

The Government announced the COVID Income Relief Payment, a $570 million temporary programme to support New Zealanders who lose their jobs due to the global COVID-19 pandemic – it will help them to adjust and find new employment or retrain.

The good news (but only for eligible residents and citizens) was reflected in headlines such as Covid 19 coronavirus: Kiwis who lost jobs in pandemic crisis to get $490 a week income relief payment.

The announcement of the Covid Income Relief Payment was accompanied by news that work is under way

“ … on the possibility of a more permanent unemployment insurance scheme in New Zealand. The Future of Work Ministers group has commissioned the work following a request from Business New Zealand and the Council of Trade Unions.

“As we move from the respond and recover phases of our COVID response, and towards rebuilding the economy, we have an opportunity to reset some of the foundations of the safety net for working New Zealanders. Continue reading “Beehive beneficence brings some cheer to workers made redundant by Covid-19 – but then comes a chorus of carping”

Russia and the airlines – not the conspiracy you think

Russia Today (sometimes referred to as Kremlin TV) does not have a widespread reputation as a fair and balanced news source. But occasionally if they say it’s raining, you might want to check outside to see if you need an umbrella.

So there is some interest in its reporting of ‘Black Swan’ author Nicholas Taleb’s suggestion that the UK government should let Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic airline go bust, rather than bail it out.

“Planes will fly w/new owners!” as he succinctly put it.

Alert readers will recall that Point of Order raised this very point last week, less directly and with more technical verbiage naturally.

RT also reported (with ill-concealed glee) some nastier bits – quoting Taleb on Branson as “a tax refugee” who “walks around virtue-faking with [the] TED [and] Davos crowd”.

And made the unevidenced allegation that the airline industry had been hugely influential in preventing governments from halting flights from China in the early stages of the epidemic.

But back to the meat of it – should governments ‘bail out’ businesses and, if so, how.  The same question which arises from the global financial crisis back to the demise of Mosgiel Woollen Mills in 1980 (and before then to be clear).

The orthodox view is simple and principled.

When a complex entity is short of cash because of a crisis, but viable, you can provide loans at a penalty interest rate, that will be paid back.  In general terms, this is what happened for quite a few of the big US banks (leave aside the murkier case of the dodgy mortgage lenders). It’s at the heart of central banking practice and done well, provides support at a price, rather than a moral-hazard inducing capital bailout.

Of course the owners get the upside on recovery, and, if the liquidity is cheaper than the market, a bonus.  And historically those with the best political connections or visibility tend to get the most generous consideration.

If the business is not currently viable, there is a procedure to resolve the competing claims and distribute the losses.  It’s called bankruptcy. If possible, a working business is plucked out of the wreckage by new owners.  

This is what Taleb refers to.  This normally means writing down the value of the shareholders to near-zero, concessions by workers and bankers, and restructuring the business to new patterns of demand.  Note that if Mr Branson keeps his airline, the last two are likely to happen anyway.

And it’s more or less what happened with General Motors during the global financial crisis, except that in that case the government ended up chipping in an extra $11 billion, which helped reduce the pain for the auto workers and the company’s creditors.

To extend the analogy, the capital bailout of an airline by a government without a formal restructuring procedure will probably mean an even bigger increase in government debt (for us all to pay back through later ‘austerity’) in order to reduce shareholders’ capital losses and minimise the concessions which workers and creditors need to make.

This is somewhat different from the rest of us chipping in to help workers whose income has just fallen off a cliff.

But at the time it’s rarely so simple or principled. The politicians who make these decisions and the people who benefit from them are often keen to obscure the difference between temporary support eventually repaid and capital transfers.  Even now when the numbers are added up, who would have thought that Morgan Stanley got the former and GM the latter?

So Mr Branson’s airline – and indeed airlines more generally – are starting to look like a good test cast for who might get favourable consideration at the expense of the rest.

Social welfare has shrunk as a portion of total govt spending – but that’s before Covid-19 upset the figures

We were checking out the cost of our social welfare system, when  government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic made nonsense of all our old concepts of government assistance.

The virus has turned everybody – by the looks of it – into state beneficiaries and has  significantly raised government spending projections.

Never mind.  We will go ahead anyway and show what we found when we compared social welfare spending in the six months ended December 31 2019 with social spending 20 years previously.

The comparisons were made using data dredged from the Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand.

Among our findings, corporate welfare beneficiaries were doing much better than 20 years ago – in terms of their slice of government spending – before the virus triggered much greater injections of government assistance.

The other big change from 20 years is the proliferation of social welfare programmes recorded as transfer payments in the financial statements (see table below). Continue reading “Social welfare has shrunk as a portion of total govt spending – but that’s before Covid-19 upset the figures”