by NZ CATHOLIC Staff
WELLINGTON — Catholic organisations have criticised the government’s
2014 budget as failing to provide for “the poorest in the communities” and recognising economic inequalities in New Zealand.
Although they welcome the budget’s $500 million package of support for families as a first step towards recognising the needs of vulnerable members of the community, they said the government
missed the mark when it comes to issues such as affordability of food, power and accommodation, including the provision of safe, warm and healthy homes.
Wellington Justice, Peace and Development chairperson Shane Olsen said the concern is that the budget focused more strongly on middle income earners, when the children living in poverty are children of low income earners.
Caritas director Julianne Hickey said the Catholic agency was looking for formal recognition by the Government of the need to address inequality and poverty.
“We are disappointed in comments by senior ministers in Parliament’s question time … and the Parliamentary Budget debate that the Government rejects the view that inequality is widening in
New Zealand,” she said.
The Auckland Justice and Peace Commission noted that although some
attempt had been made to help in the care of children, the Budget does not creatively engage the community to raise the standards of the poorest New Zealanders.
Chairperson Shane Coleman said an extra $20 million to combat New
Zealand’s high rate of rheumatic fever, a disease associated with poverty, was welcome. “That sort of measure, and other programmes such as the increased funding for community budgeting services, are to be applauded and are definitely a step in the right direction.”
But, he said, Catholic agencies such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul, and low decile Catholic schools, see the effects of poverty daily and report unprecedented demand for social services.
Mr Coleman said that although the Government had taken some recent action, the shortage of affordable housing, privately owned and rental, remained a major problem, especially in Auckland.
The executive of Monte Cecilia Trust, David Zussman, said the Budget
provided only a small increase in social housing against an ever-increasing demand. “There is an urgent need for Government to take a bolder approach and provide a significant increase in funding for social housing providers,” he said.
Mr Olsen said that establishing a housing warrant of fitness for both public and private rentals is long overdue, and is needed to ensure all New Zealanders have suitable shelter.
“This budget fails to address the growing housing issues affecting many New Zealanders, including everyone having access to appropriate and affordable housing. Sub-standard, unhealthy homes lead to further impacts of poverty on people’s lives, such as chronic
illness and poor educational achievement,” he said.
Paid parental leave
Mrs Hickey welcomed the focus on families in new spending in the Budget, particularly the extension of eligibility for free doctor’s visits for children until to the age of 13.
She said Caritas also welcomes the Minister of Finance’s commitment to extending paid parental leave to vulnerable workers, such as those in seasonal or casual employment.
“While many low-income families will benefit from the extension to paid parental leave and childcare, there is nothing in the Budget which addresses the incomes of New Zealand’s poorest families who are living on benefits,” she said.