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Housing crisis, cost of living top Budget wish list

Budget 2022 is almost here. In addition to funding the ongoing Covid-19 response, the Government has pledged a Budget that will respond to climate change, housing unaffordability and child poverty. Changes to the public health sector and progress towards our emissions reduction goals are of particular focus.

Yet, do these ambitions match the reality and wishes of the people? Our annual Budget Wishlist survey posed the question to CMM clients, staff and supporters.

Our respondents identified the housing crisis and the shock we get at the till as the prevailing issues; two major concerns that CMM staff find whānau grappling with every day.

With the cost of living at seven percent in the first three months of this year, it was no surprise respondents wanted action on the cost of basic groceries – and soon. The daily struggle of low and middle-income New Zealand was plain. The rising cost of a basket of goods places essentials out of reach of many.

Recent increases to benefit levels aside, many called for even greater support for low-income households, such as the removal of GST on food. The number of families working in low-paid jobs who are struggling was also of concern.

Lack of affordable housing and skyrocketing rents was the other major issue. Our respondents couldn’t have put their frustration in stronger terms. The message from many was that the lack of security derived from expensive and inadequate housing leads to numerous social problems. In addition, the lack of emergency accommodation for families, including the number of children in inappropriate emergency housing, was mentioned.

Our respondents wanted the Government to offer incentives for greater rates of home ownership and measures to ensure rentals are affordable. Home Start grants needed to match the cost of housing. A large number wanted to see more social housing built (“on an industrial scale”, one respondent said) and in the near future.

Deep concern about health and wellbeing reflect the importance of this sector to New Zealanders and the value placed in our public health system. “It is a system under strain,” one person said. Calls were made for improvements to our “increasingly degraded” health system and for reduced wait times. Pasifica and Māori health provider funding were identified as inadequate. Mental health care deficiencies were seen as underpinning a number of issues that cause societal harm. More people struggle with more severe mental health issues as wait lists blow out.

Child poverty statistics released in February found that in the year to June 2021 fewer children were living in material hardship but the Government had met only one of its three key child poverty reduction measures. Ensuring child poverty is eliminated should be a budgetary priority, many respondents said. “Child poverty and child abuse cannot be solved or reduced when parents are unable to access the mental health support they need to return to work or parent effectively or safely.” More money was needed to ensure that NGOs and Oranga Tamariki workers had realistic workloads. 

CMM supporter Bill Demeter hoped the Budget would pay particular attention to temporary housing for the homeless, along with health and counselling services for them. “Most of the people I deal with are noticing more and more homeless and a lot are living in cars. Why isn’t the Government being more effective or doing more? This idea that a high tide raises all boats is wrong.”

The findings come as little surprise to CMM Executive Director Jill Hawkey. “Our staff see the effect of exorbitant prices on whānau day in and day out. We know most whānau are doing their utmost to stick to tight budgets on low incomes, but it is difficult to prepare for a rent rise, a big medical bill or other unexpected expenses.”

While the Government’s commitments are laudable, they must include measures to reduce the burden of rising prices on low – and even middle – income families. “Financial stress has a terrible impact on a family. Hand in hand with this would be an increase in benefit levels and the rate at which benefits are subject to the abatement. This would provide an incentive for people to earn more, if they can.”

She says it is timely the Budget is announced as winter sets in as this is the time of year families are acutely aware of the need for decent housing. Her wish is that the great need for social housing be met. “At CMM, we ensure all our housing is secure, affordable and warm, as all housing in this country should be. We know the only way out of the housing crisis is to build more social housing. Let’s hope the Budget delivers.”