Sue Bradford. Photo / Doug Sherring
Sue Bradford. Photo / Doug Sherring

Eliminating Budget constraints

The fundamental priority for today's Budget must be fast, serious relief for homeless people and those living in deep poverty within the welfare system.
For this to happen, the first thing Grant Robertson should announce is the Government's rejection of the constraints of the Budget Responsibility Rules.

By now Labour and the Greens must have realised how deep the housing and welfare crises are, especially when placed alongside other areas of critical demand.

There is nothing which confines them to reducing the level of net core crown debt to 20 per cent of gdp within five years apart from their own ill-advised pre-election commitment.

And without major spending the costly long-term impacts of homelessness and grinding poverty will grow exponentially over the next decade.

Raise income support

Second, there should be an immediate pledge to raise income support to levels equivalent to those in place before the 1991 benefit cuts.

People should not have to rely on the random goodwill or otherwise of Work & Income staff and charities when it comes to having enough food to eat each week.

Alongside this should sit comparatively small budgetary commitments to assist the process of transforming MSD's toxic culture to one of empathy and respect, and to enact Labour's promise to get rid of the s70a sanction against sole parents who can't or won't name the fathers of their children.

State house programme


Thirdly, Government can no longer ignore the desperate urgency and scale of homelessness in urban, provincial and rural areas alike.

The state itself must take responsibility for building state houses much faster than promised so far, and without looking to the private sector to somehow meet the gap.

At least 10,000 new state houses should be built each year for the next five years or more.

Substantially more resourcing should also go into nurturing the building of rental and ownership housing within the local government and community and tangata whenua sectors.

Sue Bradford is an activist on poverty issues and a former Green MP.

Tariana Turia. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Tariana Turia. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Support for Whānau Ora

Pre-election, Labour pledged to commit an extra $20 million over four years to Whānau Ora. They told us: "We believe the delivery of Whānau Ora needs a much better coordinated approach across Government so we make the most of opportunities to really make a difference to whanau and families well-being."

The proof of these promises will be seen in a range of ministers making a commitment to Whānau Ora to match the ever-increasing demand from whānau to be able to take control of their circumstances. I truly hope Labour honours its promise.

Building on Kura Hourua success

We have seen some impressive educational models, including the Vanguard charter school or Te Kāpehu Whētu in Whangarei. These kura are improving the learning experiences and outcomes of their Māori students; achieving above the national Māori achievement standards across all NCEA levels.

We need educational options that are beyond the ideological war between Labour and Act.

What shines through the evidence of successful partnership schools is the culture of high expectation fostered in these alternative learning environments.

I hope that the Government is big enough to see past political point-scoring and invest in an education system that can work for Māori and Pasifika students.

Funding for mental health

Medication and treatment plans are not the only source of well-being. We need a range of options: support for whānau who have co-existing problems; supported accommodation; residential care for tangata waiora; support that is recovery focused.

We must address the urgency of high suicide and self-harm incidents, growing substance abuse rates and the difficulty that many vulnerable people face when seeking access to services.

We need greater investment in drug and alcohol addiction centres as well as specific funding to whānau to enable a whānau-centred approach to rehabilitation and recovery.

Dame Tariana Turia is the founder of the Maori Party and a former minister.

Ben Thomas
Ben Thomas

Improved services

It may sound like a paradox, but Grant Robertson's challenge in his first full budget is to make a lot of money seem to go a long way.

The Government is nowhere near as strapped for cash as either the National Opposition claimed during the election, especially with welcome of news of an extra $900 million in tax revenue, nor as Labour ministers have tried to suggest with debunked stories about walls of effluent in public hospitals.

But some of its most pressing concerns in health and education, such as pay rises for teachers and nurses, can make billions seem like very little over three years, if voters don't also see an improvement in services.

The Government will have to walk a fine line between deserved pay rises, and more concrete investment such as extra staffing and delivering visible benefits such as cheaper GP visits.

More social housing

Conversely, in housing, the temptation will be to provide an immediate windfall for home buyers in the form of increased subsidies, such as the shared equity arrangements for first home buyers signalled this week. The temptation should be resisted.

Like the boost to the accommodation supplement before Christmas, these benefits will quickly land in the pocket of those who already own property, increasing prices and debt if there is no clear signal on how more homes will be built. Expect a boost to Labour's favoured construction option, social housing provided by the state.

Addressing crime


Finally, the Government may take prudent but low key steps to ensure that where possible, its investment can literally make a little money go a long way: more funding for successful programmes that bring in revenue such as the confiscation of criminal assets, and resourcing to crack down on tax cheats.

Ben Thomas is a public relations consultant, a former journalist and former ministerial press secretary.