by A. Rand
The 2015 Ministry of Development’s (MSD) report “The Expert Panel Final Report: Investing in New Zealand’s Children and their Families” makes the statement that for our vulnerable children to overcome adversity and stop being ‘at risk’ they must be in a stable family environment. They consider this aspect of a stable family environment to be paramount in ensuring that vulnerable children and their families will be less likely to be ‘at risk’ in the future. To limit the likelihood of being ‘at risk’, the panel proposes that vulnerable children should be placed in a stable environment, at the earliest opportunity when family life appears to not be providing this. However, what they fail to acknowledge is the fact that many families are on low incomes, either from low paid work or benefits, which don’t provide enough income to meet every-day basics of food and shelter. A major contributing factor is that employers can employ people not only on low hourly rates, but also are able to provide such casual employment terms that employees aren’t guaranteed a fixed amount of money in their pay. Partly this situation is made possible, as Child Action Against Poverty (CAAP) points out, due to employers knowing that low income earners have their incomes ‘topped up’ with a Family Tax Credit by the government. Added to this employers in industries of low income employees are also able to offer casual employment conditions, with no mandatory requirement to provide a minimum amount of work to casual staff each week.
As a result, this causes stress within low income families, who are then forced to seek help from agencies so that they can meet their basic expenses of food and accommodation. To further compound this, as noted by Auckland City Mission (ACM), families must then find the time and ability to visit the agencies when requested, else they are penalised for failing to do so (2015). The process is further complicated, as multiple organisations hold a range of funding contracts, making the system harder and time consuming to navigate (ACM, 2015). Added to this the Productivity Commission as noted by Heatley found that this resulted in agencies operating in ‘silos’ that not only made accessing resources convoluted, but that it led to social services being more costly and complex than it needed to be (Heatley, 2016). Additionally, as noted by the New Zealand Christian Council of Social Services (NZCCSS), in eight years there has been no increase in the amount allocated to funding staff for these services even as agencies are requiring increased qualified and experienced social workers, counsellors and community workers.
It would therefore appear, that fundamental to the lack of funding provision for social services is premised on neo-liberal ideology and therefore capitalism, whereby citizens are judged on their ability as consumers. This further indicates the extent to which, in the last three decades, financial models, of cost and benefit, are impacting on social policy, and to invest infers a return is expected. Perhaps this is what the drives the current thinking, that vulnerable families and their children are considered ‘at risk’ not from adversity or harm, but on their lack of ability to participate and contribute to a capitalistic society based on consumerism. Subsequently, the unemployed and underemployed, are denied respect and full citizenship, as their restricted access to better incomes functions to maintain and continue to perpetuate the cycles of adversity associated with inequality and poverty.
Heatley, D. (2016) . Making social services work for everyone: a summary of the recent Productivity Commission inquiry. Policy Quarterly, 12 (2), 57-65. Retrieved from http://igps.victoria.ac.nz/publications/files/7339ad6aae2.pdf