In the wake of the Government’s 2017 Budget, the Auckland Catholic Diocese Commission for Justice and Peace has stated that it is the responsibility of Government to foster the common good and support the poorest and most vulnerable in society rather than just “building a more productive and competitive economy” to the possible detriment of the wider community.
Some measures in the Budget go some way towards addressing this responsibility, the commission stated. The commission’s comments on some of these areas follow:
Housing the Homeless
There has been significant failure by governments in recent years to assist those unable to provide housing for themselves by building adequate numbers of well-maintained state houses for state tenants to address the overall shortage. It’s disappointing that the Budget confirms that in the next four years more than to $1 billion of Housing NZ resources will be used to build houses for sale rather than to provide for those in greatest need.
The Government decision to contribute to the overall housing stock by providing 2600 more houses per year in Auckland is welcomed. However, this is insufficient in an escalating homelessness crisis that needs 15,000 additional houses each year in Auckland, let alone the major deficit of more than 40,000 houses that has accrued over recent years.
The Budget’s additional funding for housing rental support will assist individual families but not increase the supply of safe and affordable housing. We hoped to see some provision for warrants of fitness for private rental housing to assure families of an adequate standard of housing to help reduce health risks, especially to children.
Caring for Families
The extra funding for Vulnerable Children is welcomed but it is disappointing
that it does not establish a programme of Government targets to start to eliminate child poverty in line with the call of the Children’s Commissioner. Also, the poorest families are unlikely to benefit from the increased funding for Working for Families because of the decision not to extend this to beneficiaries.
The best way to lift living standards is to give families the means to help themselves by providing the structural support to create good jobs with decent wages and conditions. The Government should commit to paying the Living Wage to all state employees and ensure all their contractors do likewise, setting an example for all to follow.
Investing in Prisoner Rehabilitation
Extra funding for building prisons in the Budget does not seem to be matched by funds to enable the Department of Corrections to create a coherent, integrated and well-funded long-term strategy to improve prisoner health and literacy such as recommended in the December 2016 Salvation Army report Beyond the Prison Gate. Long-term strategies offer better economic investment in the correctional process as they promote healthy rehabilitation, reduce reoffending and achieve successful reintegration into society rather than through the construction of more prisons which may only meet short-term requirements.
Protecting our Environment
Given that climate change is the biggest global challenge of our time we hoped to see this directly addressed in the Budget. In particular, additional funds for tourism infrastructure should be matched by funding to protect our waterways from the pollution that can cause major health problems in our communities. With the projected global water shortage in the coming years we hoped to see a moratorium on the current export of bottled water for large profits by companies, and charge them a realistic fee which could be put towards improving our overall water integrity and resource.