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Wesley Wellington Mission
tells what you have not been told
about the proposed
Code of Social and Family Responsibility



At the beginning of this year  (1998)  the government delivered a discussion booklet to every household in the country and invited responses.   The stated aim was to promote a public consensus which might be formalized in a Code of Social and Family Responsibility.   Many people interpreted this initiative cynically as an effort to win public acceptance of further cutbacks in social welfare spending.   They argued that the biggest problem was a lack of social responsibility on the part of government itself.   We reproduce here,  with permission,  material which the management of Wesley Wellington Mission prepared,  to ensure informed and intelligent discussion of the issues.

We are told:
"In 1980 the country spent $4.5 billion,  in 1990  $18 billion,  and today (1998)  $25 billion on social services"

[Actually on Education,  Health,  and Social Welfare]

But consider this:
This appears to be a five and a half times increase in spending between 1980 and 1997.   But  -  the actual figures show there has only been a 2.6% increase since 1980 as a proportion of our national wealth.
Spending on
Social Services
$4.3 B$18.2 B$23.6 B **
Spending as
a % of GDP
** Actual expenditure as shown in Public Accounts.   $25 B is
    the amount budgeted for the 1998/1999 financial year.

We think:
There is no crisis.   Spending on social services has not exploded to dangerous proportions of the national budget.


We are told:
"Parents should love,  care for,  support and protect their children."

But consider this:
Parents are already held responsible for the care and protection of their children under the Children,  Young Persons,  and their Families  Act.   However,  the Act is not being resourced to make it effective:
"If the Act is not generously supported in terms of personnel and funding,  it will fail."   (Mason,  1992)
Under-resourcing of the New Zealand  Children,  Young Persons,  and their Families  Act,  and a lack of highly qualified and experienced social workers have resulted in a dangerous lack of focus on the right of the child to protection.

Every CYP&FS front-line operation took an effective funding cut last year and,  in essence,  the service now routinely treats only cases of direct physical harm.

We think:
The CYP&F Service should be resourced fully to ensure its objectives can be met.


We are told:
"Pregnant women should protect their own and their baby's health with the support of their partner.   They will begin regular visits to a doctor or midwife early in pregnancy."

But consider this:
Changes to maternity funding in 1996 resulted in many GPs no longer offering obstetric services,  thus effectively restricting access to pregnancy health care.

Pregnant women are expected to protect their own and their baby's health.   If they qualify for the pregnancy-related sickness benefit they receive only $147 per week  ($121 if aged 16 or 17 years).   This is not sufficient.

The code document suggests the Government should use the contact it has with women on pregnancy-related income benefits to ensure they have sought proper care.   Income support staff are not qualified to make this kind of judgment.

There are no measures suggested in the code to ensure that those not on benefits are taking care of themselves and their baby's health.

We think:
$147 per week is not enough to keep yourself and your unborn baby healthy.


We are told:
"Parents should do all they can to keep their children healthy.   They should make use of free health checks and immunisations,  and seek early advice and treatment for sick or injured children."

But consider this:
The code document acknowledges that  'poor housing is associated with poor child health'.   From 1991 the Housing Corporation has progressively increased the rents on its housing from 25% of income to "market rates".   As a result many people have shifted into more crowded accommodation,  or lower cost and lower standard housing.

58% of people who go to foodbanks spend 50% or more of their income on accommodation  (Housing of the Hungry  NZCCSS, 1996)

The code suggests that children be refused entry to early childhood centres and school if they are not immunised.   This is a direct contradiction to the next expectation that states parents should do all they can to help their children learn from the time they're born.   Parents should have the right to make an informed decision about immunising their children.

We think:
People who are spending 50% or more of their income on rent will struggle to keep their children healthy.


We are told:
"Parents should do all they can to help their children learn from the time they are born."

But consider this:
In 1993 there was a reduction from 30 hours per week to 9 hours per week of early childhood education and care available to children of low income families via the Child Care Subsidy  (Non-Governmental Organisations Report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child)

The fees charged,  or requested,  by services,  and transport costs are cited as a significant barrier to participation in early childhood care and education for Maori children,  and are probably a significant factor in the lower participation rates for children from low and medium income families.  (ibid)

The fact sheet states  "96% of 4 year olds,  and 86% of 3 year olds attend an early childhood education service."   However,  there is a common practice of children being enrolled in more than one service,  therefore they are counted more than once.

In 1996 only 42% of Maori children were enrolled in Early Childhood Education.

We think:
There should be additional subsidised childcare.


We are told:
"Parents should take responsibility for seeing that their children are well prepared for school,  and attend every day ready to learn."

But consider this:
Cutting benefits would NOT ensure that parents got their children to school.   It would just mean that parents had less money for food,  uniforms and school fees.  That would not help the child.

3.4% of all school children are perceived to be regularly hungry.   Over 5% of schools estimated that over 30% of their school roll are regularly hungry.   Almost 39% stated that up to 10% of the roll were regularly hungry.   The number of children arriving at school unfed may well be related to the benefit cuts in 1991.

No research has been done on what is an adequate income level to support families and children.

We think:
Punitive measures against parents will harm the children more than the parents.


We are told:
"Children must not break the law.   Parents will take responsibility for bringing their children up to be law-abiding members of society.   When children do offend,  families,  communities, and government agencies will work together to prevent re-offending."

But consider this:
"There is a link between family circumstances and subsequent serious and persistent offending.   The factors include:  social and material disadvantage;  a family history of criminal behaviour,  substance abuse and conflict;  childhood experiences of poor supervision;  and harsh and erratic discipline"   (Code fact sheet)

Family Group Conferences were designed to encourage families to work with the child and the community to prevent re-offending.   They are an excellent model to help reduce young offenders breaking the law.   FGCs are not sufficiently funded or resourced to ensure that the cases are followed through.   The number of completed Family Group Conference Plans and Court Orders decreased from 13,601 in 1996 to 9,545 in 1997.

We think:
Family Group Conferences should be effectively resourced and funded so that cases can be followed through effectively.   We also think that there should be publicly funded programmes to educate parents better.


We are told:
"Parents should love and care for their children,  support them financially and,  where possible,  share the parenting responsibilities,  even when they are not living together."

But consider this:
There has been a large increase in sole parent families since the 1970s and 1980s.   There has also been an increase in awareness of Family Violence since then.   More women are getting out of abusive relationships,  resulting in more sole parent families.   The rights of the child to safety and protection need to be respected.

112 countries provide paid parental leave.   New Zealand does not,  and present policy does not support this expectation.

We think:
An abusive parent should not have equal access to their child.


We are told:
"People should take the responsibility for developing the skills and knowledge they need to help them get a job,  or take on a new job."

But consider this:
There are currently 60 people enrolled for every job vacancy at the New Zealand Employment Service.

People can get training and education but there is no guarantee that they will get a job at the end of it.

There is not as much private good in tertiary education as has been proposed.   There is a long term public good resulting from a well educated society,  which should be funded by that society.   The investment in education benefits the whole society,  not just the students.

Inadequate student allowances and student debt problems are major barriers to tertiary education.

We think:
Public funding of education should be a top priority at all levels.


We are told:
"People receiving income support should seek full-time or part-time work  (where appropriate),  or take steps to improve their chances of getting a job."

But consider this:
The latest figures  (January 1998)  show that 187,582 people are registered as unemployed.   That means there are 60 unemployed people enrolled for every Employment Service vacancy.   (NZES)

112 countries provide paid parental leave;  New Zealand does not.   (Campbell  NZ Listener, March 21, 1998)   More women would return to work if there was paid maternity leave.

We know:
People would prefer to work,  rather than be on a benefit.   If there were more jobs available then the unemployment numbers would reduce.


We are told:
"People should manage their money to meet the basic needs of themselves and their family."

But consider this:
Many families do not receive enough money to meet their basic needs.

There is an assumption that if people can't get by on their income then they can't manage their money.   The inadequacy of the benefit is the more likely reason.   In a 1996 survey of Salvation Army foodbank clients,  57.6% were paying 50% or more of their income on rent.

Accommodation costs are the single most common reason for going to a foodbank.  (Housing the Hungry  NZCCSS, 1996)

Research shows that budget advice assists people to improve their financial situation.   However recent studies show that the financial situation of beneficiary clients is worsening  -  before and after budget advice.

We think:
Benefit levels should be set with reference to actual living costs.


We are told:
"People should do all they can to keep themselves physically and mentally healthy."

But consider this:
Many people are reluctant to visit doctors and dentists due to the costs.   There is good evidence to show that drug prescriptions are not being used because of increased prescription charges.

The fact sheet states that a free national breast cancer screening programme for women aged from 50 to 64 years is due to begin soon. It was due to begin soon in July 1996,  then it was due to happen soon in February 1998,  and now it is due to happen in December this year.   The programme is estimated to reduce deaths by about 30%.   This is an example of the government's commitment to the screening programme and to keeping ourselves healthy.

The waiting list for heart surgery at Wellington hospital is the highest it has been for ten years.   The system is being clogged by increasing demand,  which is not being met by increasing resources.   There are 271 people waiting for cardiac surgery,  152 of those have been waiting for six months or longer.   (Evening Post, April 14)

We think:
If the cost of health care was reduced and made more readily accessible then more people would keep themselves healthy.

The information provided here comes from a variety of sources,  and every reasonable effort has been made to ensure its accuracy.   Opinions expressed are those of the management of Wesley Wellington Mission.

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