Budget has 'little in it' for North's poor

By Mike Dinsdale of the Northern Advocate -
Whangarei Child Poverty Action Group spokeswoman Sherry Carne gave the Budget 'barely a pass, C- to C at best'. Photo / APN
Whangarei Child Poverty Action Group spokeswoman Sherry Carne gave the Budget 'barely a pass, C- to C at best'. Photo / APN

The Government's "Budget boost" to support low income families will have little effect on improving Northland's appalling child poverty rates, a Whangarei Child Poverty Action Group spokeswoman says.

In the days leading up to yesterday's Budget, the Government hinted there would be some money set aside to improve the lot of hungry children, possibly through funding for school meals for those most in need.

But, on that score, Whangarei Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) spokeswoman Sherry Carne gave the Budget "barely a pass, C- to C at best".

Last year, CPAG prepared "Empty Food Baskets: Food Poverty in Whangarei", which looked at poverty in the district and found that at least 1793 children in Whangarei - 33 per cent of students attending the decile 1-4 schools - received food assistance weekly, with some getting food more than once a week.

Since the report, the Whangarei Food for Life Centre has started giving out a free school lunch once a week at Manaia View and Otangarei schools. The centre now provides about 500 free meals every week.

The Budget gave nothing to feed children in low decile schools, but promised: $100 million over three years for the Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes programme targeting low-income households, particularly with children or elderly occupants or high health needs, for home insulation.

More than $21 million over the next four years for rheumatic fever prevention.

An extra $1.5 million for Budgeting Services in 2013/14, in addition to the $8.9 million provided already in 2012/13.

A whiteware procurement programme to enable beneficiaries to buy new appliances under warranty using Ministry of Social Development repayable grants.

A commitment to investigate and pilot a partnership with NGOs and financial institutions to support low and no interest loans for low-income borrowers.

A trial on Housing New Zealand properties of a Warrant of Fitness programme for rental housing.

Ms Carne said the Budget had little in it to improve the lot of poor Northlanders.

"I don't think it's a big boost at all.

"The extra money is good, but much of it has been announced already, and I can't see much of it coming to Northland where child poverty is a real issue.

"The $100 million for healthy homes is good, and desperately needed in Northland, but far more than that is needed.

"And most of the $21 million for rheumatic fever, which had already been announced, will go to Auckland.

"The thing with rheumatic fever is that it's mostly caused by living in unhealthy homes so if you put more money into improving homes you will reduce rheumatic fever."

Ms Carne liked the idea of a WOF for rental accommodation to improve conditions.

"But I would have thought that Housing NZ would be an exemplar of rental accommodation and should already be up to standard, so it's worrying that they may not be already."

The Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart scheme has seen more than 8000 Northland homes retro-fitted with insulation over the past five years.

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