Children's Commissioner Russell Wills: What about poverty and the homeless?

By Doug Laing -
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Hawke's Bay paediatrician and outgoing national Children's Commissioner Russell Wills. Photo / Paul Taylor
Hawke's Bay paediatrician and outgoing national Children's Commissioner Russell Wills. Photo / Paul Taylor

The Government's budgetary big-spend on a "social investment" is being treated with scepticism by some of those at the forefront of battling such issues as housing and child poverty.

Among them is Hawke's Bay paediatrician and outgoing national Children's Commissioner Russell Wills who says the Budget will help to reduce child abuse, but he "can't see a clear plan to tackle homelessness and poverty".

He said an extra $350 million to fund "the new super-CYF" - restructuring of Child Youth and Family and its child care and protection and youth justice operations - demonstrates that the Government is taking child abuse seriously.

"I think it will make a difference," he said. "I would like to see the same commitment to homelessness and crowding and poverty that we have seen for child abuse and neglect."

He said extra spending on tackling child abuse would be amplified by plans to bring in funding from philanthropic, iwi, business and community sources to help fund new services such as a proposed new advocacy service for children in care.

Napier city councillor Maxine Boag didn't see anything in the Budget to reduce child poverty.

She said: "This is closely linked with low benefits, lack of social housing and unemployment."

They needed to be priority, she said, but observed: "We have a lot of people really struggling in this region, seasonal work has dried up, adequate housing is unaffordable, they don't have enough money to feed their kids. This Budget offers them nothing."

At the forefront of battling housing issues, which have included the loss of dozens of Housing NZ units in Napier and Hastings, she wondered where the Budget includes funding for "regions like ours".

"Emergency housing? Will this filter down? There's nothing in the Budget about building more state houses, which we desperately need - all over the country."

Like Dr Wills, councillor Boag saw some good in the Budget, such as the reputedly last-minute increase in social housing in Auckland (750 places), but said: "$42 million will support 3000 emergency housing places ... not sure where."

Both she and Dr Wills applauded moves to further fund insulating homes of those on low incomes, while Ms Boag was enthusiastic for extra linked to income-related rents.

She also applauded continued tobacco price increases as a means of reducing smoking addiction but said she'd like to see the same strategy to reduce alcohol addiction and alcohol-related harm.

Napier barrister and former Labour Napier and List MP Russell Fairbrother QC described the Government's $652 million "social investment" as "Band-Aids".

A government MP for the two terms up to Labour's election defeat in 2008 before returning to his career in the justice system defending criminal offenders in court, he said: "The real issues don't get dealt with in the Budget."

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