30 May 2012
Short-sighted policy changes, taking with one hand while giving with the other, may leave vulnerable groups short-changed in this year’s Budget, says Catholic social justice agency Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand.
Caritas Director Julianne Hickey says the Catholic agency assesses the impact of Budget measures through the lens of the common good: what will contribute to and achieve the full human potential of each of us and of all of us? ‘Catholic social teaching sees a person as more than their cost or value on a balance sheet. A myopic view of people simply as economic units cannot enhance our wellbeing as a society.’
Mrs Hickey says it is hard to see the full impact of Budget changes because, while the detail of new spending has been given, the detail of ‘savings’ or cost-cutting is less transparent. However, she says aspects of the Budget seem hard to understand or even illogical, particularly where funding cuts are occurring apparently in areas of priority to government.
‘For example, it is shortsighted to set goals that beneficiaries with young children will return to the workforce and that participation in early childhood education will increase, while simultaneously making formal childcare less affordable by freezing childcare subsidies. It is shortsighted to open an Advanced Technology Institute to increase skills in science and technology while simultaneously eliminating student allowances for post-graduate study.
‘Similarly, it is shortsighted to set goals to increase educational achievement at NCEA level, while reducing class-to-teacher ratios. And it is shortsighted to partially sell state-owned power companies to fund infrastructure development in rail – which is required only because of past, failed experiments in privatisation.’
Mrs Hickey says Caritas is seeing a lack of integration and coordination across the multiple changes taking place in social and economic policy. ‘We have a deep concern that the combined impacts will hit some groups harder than others, and will have a negative impact on poor and vulnerable members of society.’
Among the losers are: children with after-school jobs, elderly rest home residents with assets close to the eligibility margins, tertiary students intending further study, beneficiaries with disabilities and working parents with children in childcare.
The Budget has also extended penny-pinching into overseas aid. A goal to increase our aid spending to $600 million a year has been continually deferred so that it is now targeted to be reached in 2015-16. This would mean about 0.25 percent of our Gross National Income being spent on overseas aid at that time, well below the international commitment New Zealand has made to reach 0.7 percent.
Caritas is in the dark about overseas aid funding allocated through non-government agencies. Previous funding schemes for NGOs have been subsumed along with many other areas into ‘International Development Assistance’. Budget figures show little detail on how this will be allocated.
Caritas acknowledges that external factors, including the ongoing impacts of the 2008 economic crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes, are restricting new government expenditure. However, Mrs Hickey said questions need to be asked about whether the 2010 tax cuts which benefited the wealthiest New Zealanders are still affordable if the government now needs to claw back the tax rebates of working children and international aid to fund its programme.
‘We can only expect to see inequality grow if Budget cost-cutting bites into the most vulnerable groups in society and the world,’ Mrs Hickey says.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.
Image: A hikoi against asset sales last month combined with a rally for Rio+20.