THE CHILD POVERTY BUDGET
By Richard Harman (author)
As more hints about what will be in the Budget leak out it looks likely to focus on child poverty.
The Prime Minister more or less confirmed this with his comments at his housing tax stand-up on Sunday.
Sources close to the Budget process are saying the same thing.
And today Treasury released (under an Official Information Act request) a paper which responded to a survey it did asking how government could improve results for our most vulnerable (at-risk) children and their families.
The paper offered a series of conclusions which match closely with many of the ideas that makeup the “social investment” approach to social services.
Among its conclusions:
- Respondents thought that the community could be better involved in the design, delivery, and evaluation of social sector services.
- The way social services work together could be improved it can be hard to find out what services are available and how to access them.
One suggestion was that social services could be co-located in an existing community centre like a school.
Radical restructuring like that is possible.
That is believed to be one of the reasons that Paula Bennett, one of the architects of the social investment approach, was made Minister of State Services.
The survey also focused on the practical problems faced by non-governmental contractors in delivering social services.
This Budget is likely to mark the coming of age of the “social investment” approach to social policy.
However what the Budget is going to deliver in terms of support for children is plainly shrouded in Budget secrecy but there are some clues.
First is the Prime Minister’s admission on Sunday that around 3% of the total population (approximately 138,000) are in material deprivation.
Add to that his comment that benefits have not kept up with NZ super recipients’ pay-outs because they are calculated differently.
The second pointer comes from the news that Ministers have been told the House will probably be sitting in urgency through Thursday, Friday and possibly Saturday.
That suggests a heavyweight --- and probably controversial ---- post-Budget legislation load for the House.
But perhaps the biggest clue that the Budget contains a major move came with the decision to release the housing tax proposals on Sunday.
Apparently the Prime Minister wanted them out of the way so they would not distract from the Budget.
What all this adds up to would seem to be a radical overhaul of support for families and children in deprivation.
Apart from child poverty and social services Ministers are saying this has been the hardest budget round they have taken part in.
The reduction in Government income along with possible public service pay increase have put extra pressure on spending bids by Ministers.
40,000 public servants in seven major government agencies and many other smaller organisations are due to enter pay talks with the Public Service Association this year.
The Labour Cost Index measured an increase in public sector pay of 1.2 per cent in the last June year. The private sector rose by 1.8 per cent.
So some provision for an adjustment in public service pay looks likely.
That may however be accompanied with some forewarning about some departmental restructuring to take account of the rapidly changing social policy delivery environment where the social investment approach means non-governmental organisations are playing a bigger role.
Bill English summed up his own philosophy succinctly to a National Party conference at the weekend.
“Smaller government is better government,” he said.