The Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group’s report “Solutions to Child Poverty” has led to inevitable calls for more welfare, but as Finance and Social development Ministers Bill English and Paula Bennett say, it’s not that simple.
“The Government acknowledges that many families are finding times challenging, and I thank the group for its report, which feeds into a great deal of work that is already underway,” Mr English says.
“This Government is tackling some difficult and complex issues including welfare reform and the White Paper on Vulnerable Children, while spending billions of dollars to support those in most need.”
Mrs Bennett says the Government welcomes ideas and some of the report’s recommendations may get taken up while some others have already been addressed.
“For example, there is merit in the suggestion of community hubs and a warrant of fitness for homes. Meanwhile, we’re already ensuring beneficiary teen parents are in education.”
However, the Government would not support universal child payments.
“It is those on the lowest-incomes who are in the greatest need so any new spending needs to be tightly targeted,” she says.
Mr English said net core Crown debt had risen from $10 billion four years ago to more than $50 billion today and, in difficult financial times, the public expected policies to be costed and evidence-based.
“New programmes are worth funding only if they change people’s lives for the better.
“Too often, governments have, for political reasons, persisted with programmes that have been ineffective and expensive.
“But if the answer was simply to throw more money at the problem, it would have been solved years ago,” he says.
There’s never a good time to scatter money and now, when the government is already borrowing so much it’s an even worse time.
Limited resources must be directed where they will do most good.
The Government’s consistent approach has been to encourage people off welfare into work, while protecting vulnerable children, maintaining support for low-income households and strengthening the economy.
The Government has ensured more families have warmer, drier homes, better access to health services, better protection from abuse, and greater support to help people off welfare into work.
All state houses will be insulated by the end of 2013 and the $347 million Heat Smart scheme has already insulated 190,000 homes since 2009.
The $24 million Rheumatic Fever programme has targeted 44,000 children in the worst affected areas and funding for free doctor’s visits for under six year olds has gone up by 50 percent over three years.
The White Paper for Vulnerable Children contains more than 30 measures. Welfare reforms include extra childcare to help young parents remain in education, along with social obligations to ensure children get the education and health care they need.
“We know children are better off in homes where at least one adult is working and long term, children who get the education and skills which lead to good jobs stand the best chance of breaking inter-generational hardship,” Mrs Bennett says.
This is about not only helping families now but breaking the poverty cycle by equipping the children for work in the future.
It’s also about changing expectations.
Some people will never be able to be independent and a compassionate society must look after them. But those who can look after themselves must be encouraged to, for their own sakes, that of their children and the social and economic welfare of the country.