Kirsty Johnston is an investigative reporter at the New Zealand Herald.

New Zealand Budget 2016: Vulnerable get $650m funding boost

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Society's most vulnerable will receive a $650 million funding boost spanning health, welfare and education services aimed at helping those at-risk "lead better lives".

Finance minister Bill English announced the package as part of Budget 2016 today under his "Social Investment" umbrella, which aims to intervene in people's lives early and save costs to the state later.

Part of the project has been in building a huge government database which enables the Government to target those at risk, be it from health, education, child welfare or crime factors.

The largest chunk of the social investment package was $200 million to implement a system-wide reform of services and support for vulnerable children and young people "to ensure they grow up in stable families and communities". It follows the review of Child, Youth and Family which found severe shortcomings in the way the service helped children.

The $200 million will go towards transforming the service to a new child-centred model. This included developing an independent youth advocacy service, raising the age of care and protection, caregiver recruitment and training, workforce training and development, and better access to support for caregivers.

The new care and protection system, to be delivered by March 2017, would have a single point of accountability focused on prevention, intensive intervention, care support services, transition support and preventing youth offending and reoffending.

"Social Investment is one of the key tools the Government has to drive changes that will help improve the lives of our most vulnerable people," Mr English said.

"It's about understanding the drivers of social dysfunction, assessing what makes the most difference to people's lives, and using evidence to do more of what works."

Other funding within the package included:

• $61.2 million, of which $19.8 million is reprioritised, towards extending the Youth Service to 18 and 19-year-olds identified as needing more support because they are at-risk of long-term benefit dependency. Nineteen-year-old sole parents have an average lifetime liability to taxpayers of more than $218,000 and on average go on to spend almost 18 years on benefits.

• $50.3 million to reduce barriers to employment, including for people with complex health conditions who would otherwise spend a significant amount of time on benefit.

• $43 million additional funding for schools, targeted at children most at-risk of not achieving in education.

• $20 million for prison Out-of-Gate reintegration services to support offenders when they are leaving the controlled routine of a prison and returning to the community.

• $40 million operating and $10 million capital in contingency to raise data quality and build infrastructure for secure data distribuwhatwhat typos?tion. This will support government agencies and NGOs to deliver better results from social services using rigorous, evidence-based measurement, evaluation and feedback.

• $18 million over two years to extend the Warm Up New Zealand programme to insulate rental houses occupied by low-income tenants, particularly those with high health needs.

• $18 million over four years to expand the Healthy Homes Initiative to reduce preventable illnesses among young children (newborns to 5-year-olds) who are living in cold, damp and unhealthy homes.

The package also included $40 million for Whanau Ora. The additional funding will allow Whanau Ora to support up to 2,500 more whanau and families in crucial areas such as managing health and disability issues, improving financial literacy skills, and reducing household debt.

"These initiatives put the needs of our most vulnerable children and families at the centre of decisions on planning, programmes and resourcing," Mr English said.

He said the policy was shaped around a 20 to 30 year view of how to improve the lives of vulnerable New Zealanders.

Minister for Social Development Anne Tolley said there would also be an immediate $144.9 million over four years to meet cost pressures and increase demand for services from more children and young people in care.

AS well as extending the Youth Services to more 18 and 19-year-olds, Ms Tolley announced more funding to help get people into employment.

This included $26 million over four years to maintain the increase in targeted case management to 120,000 clients, and $9 million to pilot initiatives to improve conditions for people with complex health conditions.

There would also be $15.3 million over three years to support a trial aimed at increase the employment prospects of released prisoners. Multi-skilled professionals would work with prisoners from pre-release for up to a year to help them prepare, find and stay in employment to help reduce reoffending.

- NZ Herald

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