A brave and bold Budget 2021 is needed

by Dr Claire Achmad, Chief Executive, Social Service Providers Aotearoa

With Budget Day around the corner, focus is zooming in on the choices the Government will make about how to spend public money. In Aotearoa New Zealand, children are a quarter of our population. While most children and tamariki are doing well and growing up with what they need to thrive, this isn’t the reality for all of our youngest generation. The choices the Government makes in this year’s Budget could change this, and need to.

The Government has set a vision of New Zealand being the best place in the world to be a child, and says that poverty reduction is a priority, placing its key focus on children. This ongoing commitment is something to be welcomed – it’s rare to have a government commit so explicitly to these things.

But the Government’s Child Poverty Related Indicators Report published on 13 May highlights again how far we have to go, so we don’t have children growing up in families whose everyday experience is a struggle.

The Indicators Report is stark: in 2019/20, 36% of households with children spent more than 30% of their disposable income on housing, and 7% of children are living in homes with a major problem with dampness or mould – these can lead to preventable childhood illnesses, which in some cases can stretch on for a lifetime. The Indicators Report shows alongside this, 20% of children report experiencing food insecurity, and in 2020 only 65% of students aged 6-16 regularly attended school.

It’s important that we recognise that these problems being experienced on a daily basis by children and tamariki in Aotearoa aren’t happenning in isolation. They are inextricably linked – and in many instances underpinned by a common factor: poverty.

Official child poverty statistics published earlier this year (for the year ending June 2020) show 18.4% of children live in households with less than 50% of the median equivalised disposable household income after housing costs are paid for. In practical terms, that’s Eden Park at full capacity, times four.

Material hardship, where children live in homes going without six or more 17 essential items, is affecting 11.3% of Aotearoa’s children. For tamariki Māori, this is much higher at 22.6%, and for Pacific children, even higher at 28.2%.

So, what do we need to see on Budget Day so children and tamariki can experience their basic human rights and move closer to wellbeing? A brave and bold Budget. One that invests in increasing income support in line with the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s recommendations, so that families and whānau have liveable incomes and hope for a fairer future. A Budget that invests to ensure that all children can grow up in a healthy, warm and safe home, without the housing insecurity that negatively affects so many parts of their lives.

The brave and bold Budget needs to invest, too, in the community organisations that are there for children and whānau in their time of need – our NGO social services. Aotearoa’s response to COVID-19 has highlighted that our NGO social services are integral to getting children and whānau through the toughest times. The estimated $630 million funding gap facing NGO social services is unsustainable.

Budget 2021 could helpfully step in to address this through fair funding and fair pay. Such investment is directly linked to ensuring better child and whānau wellbeing – because these are the organisations working at flaxroots every day in communities throughout the motu when children and whānau need help the most – and which prevent crisis occuring in the first place.

As Aotearoa continues to grapple with the pandemic’s impact, a brave and bold Budget focused on children, whānau and those who support them is needed, as an ingredient to get us to a more equitable, inclusive and fair future for generations to come.

Dr Claire Achmad is Chief Executive of Social Service Providers Aotearoa, a membership-based organisation representing over 200 NGO social service organisations throughout New Zealand. Social Service Providers Aotearoa is a member of ComVoices.