Investment in Budget 2020 and early actions to respond to COVID-19 build on recent investments to reduce child poverty and improve wellbeing, through the Families Package and Budgets 2018 and 2019.
Since coming into office, the Government has implemented a number of policies and investments to reduce child poverty and improve child wellbeing in line with its overall vision of making New Zealand the best place in the world for children and young people.
The Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy framework remains a critical lens for the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It sets out a shared understanding of what is important for child and youth wellbeing and government’s commitment to six high-level wellbeing outcomes for children and young people. It also has a strong focus on achieving greater equity of outcomes. That hasn’t changed.
The impacts of COVID-19 are likely to hit those living in poverty and disadvantaged circumstances the hardest, so it’s critical that we continue to prioritise those in greatest need.
While it’s too early to know the longer-term impacts of COVID-19, we do know that continuing to invest in child and youth wellbeing will have significant long-term benefits for them and their families, our economy, and our broader society, long after COVID-19 has passed.
Below is an overview of recent investments that support child wellbeing and poverty reduction, including immediate actions taken to respond to COVID-19, as well as Budget 2020 initiatives, and those included in the dedicated COVID Relief and Recovery Fund (CRRF).
Investments that address child poverty
A good standard of material wellbeing
- increasing main benefits by $25 per week from 1 April 2020. This increase, combined with the planned adjustment from the Budget 2019 indexation change, means that most rates increased by around $30 – $35 per week.
- doubling the rate of the 2020 Winter Energy Payment from 1 May to 1 October, to $900 (for singles) and $1,400 (for couples or people with dependants)
- removing the need to satisfy the hours test for the In Work Tax Credit from 1 July 2020 (previously people needed to work a set number of hours each week to receive the credit)
- increasing the minimum wage to $18.90 per hour, which took effect from 1 April 2020
- increasing the rates of the Foster Care Allowance (FCA), Orphan's Benefit (OB) and Unsupported Child's Benefit (UCB) by $25.00 per week per child, from 1 July 2020 ($143.066.0m over 4 years)
- further funding to assist caregivers to respond to the pressures of COVID-19, including through respite care and extensions to benefit eligibility and the Birthday and Christmas Allowances ($66.6m over 4 years)
- establishing the COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to help soften the shock from unemployment and minimise disruption for people as they seek new employment - $490per week for those previously in full-time work and $250per week for part-time work ($570m over 2 years)
- introducing grace periods for the in-work tax credit, beginning in the 2021/22 tax year ($23m over 4 years)
- Free access to period products in schools on an opt-in basis in 2021 ($2.6m).
Access to nutritious food
- a $27 million package to support services that ensure people have access to the food and other goods they need to survive; provide a place for people to live; support disabled people to maintain critical wellbeing; and keep families safe from harm and offer crisis support.
- a further $30 million support package to bolster the delivery of food and welfare assistance (including emergency accommodation) by local authorities and Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups to those who need it the most.
- funding to scale up existing food parcel programmes for 10 weeks and maintain and redirect edible primary produce that is otherwise at risk of being wasted to those in need ($14.55m over 1 year).
- boosting support for foodbanks, food rescue and community food services and leveraging surplus donated food from food producers, manufacturers and suppliers that would otherwise go to landfill ($32m over 2 years).
- expanding the Free and Healthy School Lunch Programme for up to 200,000 Year 1-13 students in schools with the highest disadvantage, estimated to create an extra 2000 jobs ($220.6m over 2 years).
Access to stable housing that is affordable, warm and dry
- a 6-month freeze on residential rent increases and increased protection from having tenancies terminated.
- work with the major retail banks on mortgage deferrals for homeowners impacted by COVID-19.
- providing 8,000 new public and transitional homes over the next four to five years to those most at risk through the Government Housing Build programme, while ensuring investment into the residential construction sector over the coming years ($670m over 4 years)
- enabling iwi and Māori housing providers to deliver tailored housing outcomes for Māori in addition to the 8,000 extra homes outlined above ($40m)
- improving housing for Pacific families and communities (up to $41.3 million)
- increasing the grant for low-income owner-occupiers to access the Warmer Kiwi Homes grants, resulting in an estimated additional 9,000 retrofits ($56.4m over 2 years).
Parents or caregivers have the skills and support they need to access quality employment
- implementing and then extending the employer Wage Subsidy Scheme to support businesses to retain staff during the COVID-19 response ($585.80 per week for full-time workers and $350.00 per week for part-time workers)
- introducing the COVID-19 Leave Scheme Payment to support essential workers who need to take leave owing to the COVID-19 Public Health guidance same rates as wage subsidy).
- improving and increasing funding for Out of School Care and Recreation Services (OSCAR) to allow parents to gain and maintain meaningful employment or undertake further education and training, while supporting children’s wellbeing and educational attainment ($9.6m over 4 years)
- supporting Auckland Pacific people who have lost jobs due to COVID, or who are in low-skilled precarious work, to transition into quality employment, through a programme offering wrap-around support; delivery of micro-credentials and community capability building ($22.1m over 4 years)
- introducing a Trades and Apprenticeships Training Package which provides opportunities to receive training, re-training and employment support, including specific programmes targeting young people, Māori and Pacific People ($1.6b)
- creating almost 11,000 new jobs in regional NZ to restore our environment ($1.1b)
Other investments designed to improve child and youth wellbeing and support families and whānau:
Supporting parents, caregivers and families
- initiatives to ensure children, young people and their families have what they need, as highlighted in the ‘addressing child poverty’ section above
- establishing a Pre-Trial Service which will provide early support to reduce the number of people entering or remaining in custody, and support enduring and meaningful relationships between parents in the justice system and their children ($47.5 million over 4 years)
- strengthening the Family Court to reduce child and parental stress, increase personal safety and improve connections with families ($62.1m over 4 years)
- boosting funding for Building Financial Capability services to help providers build the financial resiliency of vulnerable clients and respond to additional demands ($35m over 4 years)
- increasing funding for NGO service providers that deliver essential services critical to the running of Oranga Tamariki ($229.9 over 4 years)
- continuing to support the sustainability of WellChild Tamariki Ora service providers to deliver child health services including immunisations, health checks and other essential services ($71.16 million over 4 years)
Addressing family and sexual violence
- significant support to stabilise New Zealand’s family violence services, including support for services by Māori for Māori, those supporting victims of elder abuse, programmes for people who use violence and want to change their behaviour, and therapeutic services and treatment for children and young people exposed to family violence.($183 million over 4 years)
- delivery of a multi-agency specialist response from Police, Health and Justice on a non-fatal strangulation initiative (19.9m over 4 years)
- expanding the Whanau Protect National Home Safety Service to keep children and their whanau safe through practical security improvements to their homes ($5.98m over 4 years)
- Increased funding for Counties Manukau Whangaia Nga Pa Harakeke site, to support triaging of cases and enable the purchase of family violence services ($3.03m over 1 year)
- creating a safe online and digital environment for children and young people, through a public awareness campaign that involves age-appropriate tips, information and resources ($1.5m over 1 year).
Improving the quality of education
- emergency funding to enable distance learning for early childhood education and schooling ($87.8 million over 2 years).
- additional funding for the School High Health Needs Fund that provides teachers’ aide support for students with high health needs, so they can attend school safely. ($19.655m over 4 years)
- support for home-based early childhood educators to become qualified ($36.2m)
- funding to enable students’ access to online teaching and learning ($36.4m over 2 years).
- support for Māori learners and whānau to reconnect and succeed in education post COVID-19 and strengthening the integration of Te Reo Māori into all students’ learning ($200m)
- funding for targeted support to ensure Pacific learners and families equipped to access education ($80.2m over 4 years)
- funding to ensure the ongoing viability of Te Kōhanga Reo as an ECE option for Māori whānau ($200m over 4 years).
- funding to co-design and deliver targeted for early intervention strategy and support for tamariki with learning support needs ($2.839 over 4 years)
- enabling 100% qualified and certified ECE teachers, to improve the quality and frequency of teacher-child interactions ($278.249m over 4 years)
- funding for Specialist library services for schools and young people with the greatest need ($13.3m over 4 years)
Improving training and transition to employment
- expansion of the He Poutama Rangatahi programme ($50m over 4 years) and the Tupu Aotearoa programme ($13.9 million over 2 years), targeting Māori and Pacific young people needing extra support to enter and complete training and study (in addition to the Trades and Apprenticeships Training Package and creation of 11,000 environmental jobs highlighted above)
- establishing a hardship fund to help tertiary students get through coming months ($20m)
- funding to administer a code of pastoral care for domestic tertiary students ($6.1m)
- increasing Pacific participation in STEM related sectors, to increase skills and income ($4.85m over 2 years)
Supporting and empowering communities
- increasing funding to improve community services in rural and provincial communities provided by MSD to ensure access to a broad range of government and non-government services ($19.768 million over 4 years)
- grants for community groups to enhance the wellbeing of their communities, and more readily recover from the impacts of COVID-19, with a specific focus on Maori, Pacific, refugee and migrant communities ($36m over 2 years)
Supporting and empowering Māori
- funding to ensure that Whānau Ora can continue to provide timely and flexible support to whānau and communities who need it the most. ($136.087m over 3 years)
- funding to help build partnerships with hapū and iwi organisations, to support community outreach and help deliver urgent support to whānau and to build capacity and capability ($11.2m over 2 years)
- enabling iwi and Māori housing providers to deliver tailored housing outcomes for Māori in addition to the 8,000 extra homes funded in the Budget ($40m)
- targeted initiatives to improve educational outcomes for tamariki and rangatahi Māori, as outlined in the improving the quality of education section above.
- specific training, re-training and employment support programmes targeting Māori (eg the Māori Apprenticeships Fund providing tailored support for Māori employers to take on Māori apprentices, and expansion of He Poutamu Rangatahi programme), as part of the Trades and Apprenticeships Training Package highlighted above
Advocacy for children and young people
- increasing funding for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner to ensure it has the resources to maintain a child-centred approach and promote decisions that are in the best interests of children ($4 million over 4 years)
- increasing funding for the Independent Children’s Monitor (ICM) which monitors the system of State care and ensures that the ICM has sufficient resources to perform this vital function and that children in State care are supported to reach their potential and thrive. ($31.5 million over 4 years)
What the longer-term response work will involve
The Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy will continue to drive cross-agency government policy, in a unified and holistic way, to achieve the long term objectives of reducing child poverty and improving child wellbeing.
The Strategy’s current Programme of Action is already focused on improving the wellbeing of children and young people with greatest needs. This group is likely to experience the most-severe impacts of COVID-19, so our longer-term work programmes are now even more important – including the overhaul of the welfare system, implementing the Employment Strategy, improving access to affordable housing, and addressing inequities in health and educational outcomes.
The Programme of Action is, however, a living document and will continue to evolve in response to increased levels of need and emerging issues, as well as new opportunities to make transformative and lasting change to enduring social issues.
One of the silver linings of COVID-19 is that it's proven our ability to do things differently. Nearly all of us have made changes to the way we live and work in order to protect those most vulnerable in our communities. Government has moved quickly to implement a range of measures and supports, resulting in significant progress on longstanding issues like digital connectively and housing the homeless. NGOs, iwi, and Māori and community groups have also stepped up and responded to the needs of their local communities. Innovation is flourishing at a local level, and there’s been increased and real collaboration, with partnerships and relationships built and strengthened.
We will continue to explore ways to build on these developments, and the innovative and creative solutions that have emerged, to help ensure New Zealand becomes the best place in the world for ALL children and young people.