Auckland diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission believes that, with its 2020 Budget, the Government has made an encouraging effort to meet the needs of the poor and vulnerable in the Covid-19 crisis, but there were some omissions.
The commission prefaced its reaction to the Budget by noting Government responsibilities to foster the common good and support the poorest and most vulnerable, while facing the challenges of such an unprecedented time.
Moves in the Budget to address the housing crisis were applauded by the JPC, specifically the provision of 8000 more public and transitional housing units – but this is over an unspecified time period. The commission noted that there were 14,000 families on the public housing waiting list before the Covid-19 crisis, and the pressure in this area is likely to increase.
“We believe a much more substantial programme of decent affordable house construction, state and private, is still urgently needed, and would be a great provider of jobs and assistance to business through the substantial flow-on effects through the economy,” the commission stated.
The affordability of private rentals needs to be addressed urgently, it added.
The commission also welcomed the $137million increase in Whanau Ora funding which will help many vulnerable families facing the health and socio-economic effects of the Covid-19 crisis. Also welcomed was the $37million fund to support community groups, with a particular focus on helping Maori, Pacific, refugee and migrant communities in coping with the crisis.
Extension of the School Lunch programme and an allocation of $32million to reimburse foodbanks was praised.
“We identify a need in Auckland and Northland to put in place a collective strategy to address immediate food needs of so many families,” the commission added.
Also praised were the Wage Subsidy Scheme and the $25-a-week increase in social welfare assistance for foster care allowance, orphans benefit and unsupported child’s benefit.
“We are, however, disappointed by the choice not to increase the base rate for social welfare assistance, or to extend payment of the living wage to state contractors. The divide gets bigger as these people on the margins continue to be neglected.”
A Government move to fund a community clearing house to enable access to justice for the vulnerable was described as “a very helpful initiative”. The commission added that more assistance was needed in other areas of prisoner rehabilitation and working with offenders with drug and alcohol issues, as well as more support for programmes to improve prisoner health and literacy.
The JPC welcomed a continued emphasis in the Budget on sustainability and nurturing the environment “while assisting people to continue in employment and build a more sustainable and fairer society, particularly through the $1.4billion trades and apprenticeship training and the $1.1billion environmental jobs schemes.
Also applauded were a boost to Department of Conservation funding and the introduction of the $200million jobs-for-nature programme.
But “it would have been useful if the Budget had provided more support for incentives for sustainable land use, robust assistance to transition to electric vehicles, improve water quality for rural and urban communities, and work on a system to adequately rate and label goods in terms of country of origin and environmental standard”.