In meeting with the Prime Minister and other ministers last month, Church leaders stressed that they don’t want a post-Covid return to “normality” that is indifferent to the poor and to the environment.
This would just expose New Zealand again to the next pandemic, stated the Church leaders in position papers prepared for the meeting on March 11.
Two of the issues the Church leaders brought to the meeting — housing and welfare — have been priorities for decades in meetings between the leaders and the Government, and these issues remain urgent and pressing, the papers stated.
The Church leaders, including Cardinal John Dew, acknowledged that significant social spending was rolled out to support both waged and unwaged New Zealanders through the Covid-19 lockdowns, and that significant programmes of work are underway.
But they requested that the Government recognise that benefit levels are not meeting basic needs, and should be lifted. The system also needs to be simplified.
The Church leaders also addressed the related issue of food insecurity, a problem for an increasing number of people.
“Estimates from the church and community sector before the Covid-19 pandemic indicated that 1 in 10 New Zealanders lived in food insecure environments. During the Covid-19 lockdown period it is estimated that this number rose to 1 in 5. Covid-19 exposed New Zealand’s hunger crisis,” a position paper stated.
During the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, churches have been at the frontline supporting communities through foodbanks and food relief initiatives, the Church leaders noted.
“Food insecurity remains a concerning issue for us, with many of our groups still supporting more than double the numbers of families with food compared with 12 months ago. We welcome further discussions on how we can continue to partner with Government to address the long tail of food insecurity, as Covid-19 continues to disrupt New Zealand life and places further strain on those in need.”
Concerning housing, the Church leaders called for a “long-term balanced policy approach to the systemic housing crisis we are currently experiencing”. This was before the Government announced its housing package on March 23.
Among the actions recommended were that the Government partner “much more with community housing providers” and share “the development investment with them”.
The Church leaders requested that “government commit to a balanced tenure policy of social housing, secure renting and affordable homeownership options in new developments, and in doing so
provide a range of homeownership products with access for lower-income households currently squeezed out of the market, and prioritised access for Māori and Pasifika households”.
They also asked that housing support assistance, particularly the accommodation supplement and the associated abatement rates, are reviewed to help lower income households.
Other issues addressed during the meeting included immigration concerns, including family reunification in the pandemic, recognition of church workers as essential in some cases (for immigration purposes), Covid-19 vaccination, including when some church workers, such as hospital chaplains, would be able to be vaccinated, the help churches could give in vaccine promotion and the use of church facilities for vaccination.