On May 19th, the Government released its 2022 Budget which included a number of initiatives to help vulnerable whānau in our communities. Many of these initiatives focus on a proactive strategy to recover from the effects of COVID.
Within the community services provided by Visionwest, we have noted a significant and continuing increase in requests for support, particularly in the areas of housing, food insecurity, child poverty, employment, counselling, and financial mentoring. In the case of some services, the number of whānau utilising our services has increased 400% from pre-Covid levels.
The reality for many New Zealanders is that the financial ramifications of Covid and the subsequent rise in the cost of living, has impacted them greatly and, in some cases, has been financially overwhelming. Whānau who previously felt in control of their finances are finding themselves accessing foodbanks and budgeting services and visiting WINZ offices. Those who were already struggling have found themselves in dire need.
As an organisation that sits at the frontline of whānau need in local communities across Aotearoa New Zealand, we welcome any steps the Government can take to ease these challenges faced by so many New Zealanders.
Highlights of Budget 2022 and Visionwest’s Response
Of the many initiatives revealed in the Budget, Visionwest is especially interested in those that align with the community services we currently provide, and it is these we will focus on in this 2022 Budget response
Visionwest’s Response to – Support for Housing
Over $1 billion towards housing support. This will include:
- The Affordable Housing Fund promises $50 million of grant funding for not-for-profits such as Visionwest, to deliver affordable rental housing.
- The Homeless Action Plan provides funding for the expansion of rangatahi / youth-focused transitional housing places, and the delivery of a new supported accommodation service for rangatahi / youth with higher and more complex needs.
- Funding to meet public and transitional housing costs.
- House price caps for First Home Grants have been removed in many parts of the country and House price caps for First Home Loans have been removed entirely.
- Housing help for whānau Māori is in the form of an increase in the Kāinga Whenua Loan cap.
As an organisation that supports those experiencing homelessness, including rangatahi, we applaud any positive moves made to increase housing stock, or to make existing housing more affordable to New Zealanders.
The rapid increase in property values throughout Aotearoa New Zealand has had a catastrophic effect on many whānau and their ability to pay for rental accommodation or purchase their first home. In a nation where we recognise housing as a fundamental right for all citizens, the number experiencing homelessness or living in substandard conditions continues to grow and we hear stories of families who, on a weekly basis, must choose between paying their rent or buying food. Of those worst affected, there is a disproportionate number of whānau Māori. Also on the rise is the number of younger people who are homeless, 26% of whom are Māori.
Any move to alleviate the challenges faced by those experiencing homelessness or struggling to pay for the home they are in is welcomed.
The Affordable Housing Fund means not-for-profits such as Visionwest, will be able to deliver more affordable rental housing. The $1 billion pledged towards existing and planned public and transitional housing through rent subsidies and help with costs faced by housing providers will also have a positive impact on many families.
Māori will be helped by the Government’s promise to increase the Kāinga Whenua Loan cap from $200,000 to $500,000.
The initiative focusing on housing for rangatahi means programmes like our My Whare project may be expanded and young people will receive, not only a roof over their head, but also the support they need to enable them to thrive in community.
Visionwest’s Response to – Child Poverty
- An amendment to the Child Support rules and increased income levels for hardship assistance.
- Support for child dental care of low-income families lifted from $300 to $1,000 per year.
Child poverty is a continuing issue in Aotearoa New Zealand – one which the Government has pledged to address. Visionwest is pleased to see an amending of the Child Support rules for monies paid to sole-parent beneficiaries. It is claimed that this amendment will lift an estimated 6,000 – 14,000 children out of poverty.
Every day we see the face of child poverty as client whānau speak with our Whānau Centre staff about the choices they must make between the purchase of food or paying of rent, or the buying of school uniforms or paying of school fees. We commend the Government for any funding that will lead to a decrease in children experiencing poverty.
Visionwest’s Response to – Addressing the Cost of Living
- $814 million to support 2.1 million Kiwis with a cost-of-living payment.
- $235 million fuel duty reduction extended.
- $130 million to reduce the cost of public transport.
- $11 million to help food prices competition.
A number of initiatives have been announced or extended as short-term measures to aid whānau who are feeling the bite of the rising cost of living. In particular, New Zealanders who earned less than $70,001 last tax year and are not eligible for the Winter Energy Payment will receive around $27 per week for the three months starting 1 August 2022.
The need to address the rising cost of living is urgent. Whānau who have never before felt the challenge of a weekly financial shortfall are now experiencing it and need support. Some are still reeling from job or income losses related to Covid. Others are struggling with the significant rise in rent, food and petrol prices. All of them need help.
Visionwest is heartened by the help offered in the budget but is also aware that these supports are short-term measures. The ramifications of escalating price rises will not immediately fall away at the end of October and will be felt by families for a long time.
Concerns on whānau hardship were recently demonstrated in Visionwest’s Whānau Hardship Report (April 2022) where 97% of those interviewed reported circumstances where they had to choose between paying an essential bill or and buying groceries. As one of the respondents commented, “Life is very stressful when you spend every day trying to balance your spending and you know that no matter how hard you try, there will be some item or some bill you can’t afford. Sometimes, the thing I can’t buy is food.”
The cost-of-living pressures voiced by the sample included housing, transport/petrol, and utilities. Debt also featured prominently in responses throughout the survey and is adding additional pressure on the ability of households to purchase adequate food in their weekly budget.
Visionwest’s response to – Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence
$114.52m over four years to strengthen community approaches to prevent and respond to family violence and sexual violence. This will include:
- $37.625 million for six primary prevention initiatives to address drivers of harm, enhance protective factors and shift community and societal norms that condone violence.
- $7.383 million to fund the development of workforce and organisational capability frameworks for the sexual violence sector, and to fund the implementation of new family violence frameworks and tools.
- $4.99 million to fund Family Start and Oranga Tamariki to build capability to identify early signs of family violence and sexual violence and support tamariki and whānau who are affected by it.
We are supportive of the Government’s foresight in investing the prevention of family and sexual violence and applaud the focus on working to shift societal norms that help perpetuate this issue – in effect, placing the emphasis on ‘building a fence at the top of the cliff rather than providing an ambulance at the bottom.’
A simple reality for Visionwest is that our Mātanga Oranga trauma counselling team is unable to keep up with the demand of whānau who wish to engage with Kaupapa Māori-based service supports in order to address trauma (at times generational trauma) they have experienced – trauma which may manifest itself in both the victim of and the perpetrator of family violence.
This focus on family and sexual violence will bring hope and transformation to many by enabling a growing number of whānau to address issues that impact their personal and whānau lives, and which so many are willing to address provided the support is available.
Visionwest’s Response to – Better Outcomes for Disabled People
- $110 million towards the establishment of a Ministry for Disabled People and provision of extra funding for disability support services.
The Budget states, “People will continue to receive disability support services, but from 1 July they will come from the new ministry. This is the start of a move towards a ‘whole-of-life’ approach to disability rather than viewing disability as a health issue.”
Of the 7,000 client whānau cared for by Visionwest Home Healthcare, many are living with a disability. We welcome any move that will enable them to participate more fully in aspects of life that able-bodied people would consider routine tasks and activities.
Visionwest’s Response to – Care in the Community support
$58.1 million for ongoing Care in the Community support as the Government transitions out of a ‘Covid-response’ mode into a focus on efforts supporting recovery and community resilience. This will include:
- $30.6 million for the Community Connector programme.
- $18.5 million for community food organisations and MSD’s Food Secure Communities programme.
Community Connector programme
The Community Connector programme has seen the appointment of Community Connectors in communities across Aotearoa New Zealand. The Community Connectors provide practical guidance to those who need support but are uncertain where or how to access it.
Visionwest value what the Government has achieved in this space. We currently have six Community Connectors and funding designated to this programme will help to maintain the vital service we are providing. We recognise that the demand on this service will grow in coming months, perhaps years, especially as an increased number of whānau who are unfamiliar with the processes used by support agencies are having to access them for the first time.
Community food provision
The rapidly rising cost of food, coupled with the decrease in income experienced by so many New Zealanders following job losses or wage decreases during Covid, has resulted in an entirely new demographic accessing our Pātaka Kai foodbank. Many of these whānau have never before used a food support service. Neither did they ever expect to be in the situation where one would be needed. At the height of Covid, Visionwest Pātaka Kai was distributing over 1,000 food parcels each week – a 400% increase on pre-Covid demand.
It’s encouraging that the Government has recognised the food insecurity currently faced by so many whānau. The funding provided to “community food organisations” will help us ensure that those who are doing it tough right now will have nutritious food for their whānau.
At the same time, the level of food need currently present in our community is demonstrated by respondents to Visionwest’s Whānau Hardship report who reported a concerning level of diminishing funds to spend on weekly groceries. When asked how much money a household had to spend on food after living costs (rent, petrol, utilities etc) had been covered, whānau responses were as follows:
- 92% of households had less than $100 to spend on food each week.
- 51% of households had between $101 and $150 to spend on food each week.
- A minuscule 2.56% said they had between $151 and $200 to spend on food each week.
Visionwest’s Response to – Youth Development Services Investment
$15 million funding for youth development to increase access for up to 6,800 young people per year to youth development services.
The education, training and placing of our young people into employment is a key to the transformation of lives and of developing healthy communities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. With around 200 young people enrolled in our various Youth Solutions programmes, Visionwest has seen the positive results that can be achieved in the lives of individuals when proactive guidance is provided in an appropriate manner. We are encouraged to see increased funding in this space.
Visionwest’s Response to – Building Financial Capability Services
$21 million for building financial capability services to improve financial outcomes of individuals and whānau.
Since the beginning of the latest Covid event (August 2021) the number of whānau making use of Money Mentors – Visionwest’s budgeting service – has increased by around 400%. In the first six months of the current financial year, our financial mentors conducted more one-on-one sessions than for the entire previous year.
This increase in those seeking budget advice has been matched by an increase in the number of financial mentors within Money Mentors. It indicates the very deep desire and need there is in our communities for whānau to survive in a climate where the cost of many essentials is rising and the incomes of many have decreased.
An understanding of budgeting and personal finances can be lifechanging for whānau and we welcome the investment made in this area.
The concerns facing the vulnerable in our communities are not isolated issues. These challenges are interwoven and any response to them needs to take this interconnectedness into account. On a day-to-day basis, the teams working in our frontline services hear stories of whānau, many of them in current employment, who are struggling with rising costs and decreasing income. This becomes a complex issue for individuals and communities as almost every aspect of living cost is affected.
That is why it’s heartening to see that the Government has made considerable investment into reducing the immediate effects of the cost of living, and to the longer term relating to violence in our communities, employment, education, and food deprivation.
However, we need to recognise, as previously stated, that, while helpful to many, a number of these supports are short-term measures. The ramifications of escalating price rises will not immediately fall away at the end of October and will be felt by families for a long time.
Lisa Woolley, CEO of Visionwest Waka Whakakitenga,responded to the Budget saying,
In these post-COVID times, we are continuing to reach out to the vulnerable in our communities, including those who are new to the experience of financial insecurity and the many challenges that brings.
For this reason, we are grateful for any initiatives that bring some relief to the whānau we, and organisations like Visionwest, are supporting.
We applaud the Government’s initiative in addressing many of these challenges facing so many New Zealanders in communities across Aotearoa New Zealand. We recognise the complexity of these issues but also see on a daily basis the simple struggle faced by so many Kiwis – that is, to shelter, feed and clothe their whānau. And, we welcome the steps the Government has taken with this Budget, and any ongoing steps it will take to work towards increased wellbeing, hope and transformation for whānau throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.