The victories and defeats in the new State of the Union report from Sallies
Every year the Salvation Army publishes a report that assesses areas such as child poverty and housing. This is how it will be for us in 2020.
When Jacinda Ardern announced Labor’s first wellbeing budget in 2019, she emphasized the importance of putting people at the center of economic decisions. She acknowledged that “New Zealand has seen strong growth for a number of years” but noted that such growth has come along with “some of the highest rates of suicide, unacceptable homelessness and shameful domestic violence and child poverty”.
Today the Salvation Army released its 13th Annual State of the Union Report, which measures progress in human well-being. The 83-page report was written by their Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit and covers five key areas: Children, Work and Income, Crime and Punishment, Social Hazards and Housing.
Director Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hutson presented the results, noting that it was “gratifying to see economists and the current government adopting a ‘people-centered’ emphasis.”
“However, this report shows that no change has been made to address this situation. No wonder, as governments often struggle to make bold changes when their citizens do little to support the changes that are needed. “
The problem areas outlined in the report have been the subject of much public debate and protests. Oranga Tamarikis Child Elevation Practices, mainly by Māori children, have been widely condemned, and Ardern’s decision to exclude a capital gains tax has been welcomed by property managers, business owners and no one else. The latest political protest target, the decision to downsize Concert FM by RNZ, was not included in the report.
“This year’s State of the Union report shows some positive signs of change for a significant group of Wānau in Aotearoa, New Zealand, suffering appalling poverty; for example, the less punitive approach to beneficiaries is a very encouraging sign, ”wrote Hutson. “However, our political leaders are unlikely to show the courage it takes to lead this change unless the country strongly supports a more determined effort to tackle the kind of poverty we see in New Zealand.”
Each of the five categories was rated in different sub-categories and rated either with a plus sign (overall improvement), a minus sign (overall deterioration), or NC (no change). Here are four improvements and four deteriorations.
Ardern serves as both Prime Minister and Minister for Children, a role she has openly sought since she first entered parliament in 2008. With the vocal aim of “making New Zealand the best country in the world to be a kid”. The von Ardern government increased social spending by around $ 1.5 billion, which was added to the family package. Given how recently these decisions have been made, any changes policymakers may make to poverty statistics will not be recorded for another year. However, the steps taken so far have been welcomed by the industry.
As a plus for reducing child poverty, the report found that this was still a small step. “Most worrying is the persistently high number of children in deep poverty and that their households will not receive enough additional support without further increases in social assistance.”
Employment and income
Employment figures continued to rise in 2019 and with an increase in the minimum wage the average income also rose, “but the distribution of the increases is still limited and is not sufficient to reduce income inequality as a whole”.
Lending by non-bank financial institutions increased a whopping 40% from 2014 to 2019. Predatory lenders target low-income families and offer short-term, high-interest instant loans that often spiral debt for customers. In September 2019, the government agreed to introduce a daily rate cap on loans as part of its reform of the Law Amendment Act on Loan Agreements. In the past 12 months, non-bank lending has stabilized after rising sharply in previous years.
Teen pregnancy rates have decreased every year since 2008 and will continue to do so. As a result, teenage abortions have also decreased. The decline in teenage pregnancies is attributed to young people who delay their sexual activities and use more effective contraception. “However, there is still a need for improved quality and more comprehensive, strength-oriented and culturally appropriate support for young parents.”
Children and violence
The number of crimes against children has remained largely at a similar level over the past four years, but the number of serious assaults with a risk of injury has increased by 40%. “The number of other violent crimes is not increasing and the number of victims of serious sexual assault is falling,” says the report. “The negative effects of increased levels of physical harm suggest that we are losing ground in attempts to help children be less at risk of violence.”
Suicide among adolescents and teenagers
Reducing alarming suicide rates in New Zealand has been an important part of the government’s welfare budget. In the year through June 2019 there was a sharp increase in suicide deaths, with an increase from nearly 50% to 15-19%. The Māori suicide rate is more than double the total population rate, and the numbers have increased in both the teenage group and the general population since 2016.
“The suicide rate among teenagers has risen sharply this year and is part of a recent increasing trend. This is a sign of genuine concern for the social and psychological well-being of young people. “
While drug offenses related to cannabis have been prosecuted at falling rates since 2010, prosecution for methamphetamine offenses has steadily increased over the same period. While the decline in cannabis law enforcements may have been due to changing social attitudes and police priorities, the dominance of meth in New Zealand has become evident.
Affordability of housing
The 2017 elections were filled with promises to fix the broken real estate market. With a capital gains tax wiped off the table for as long as Ardern was in office and the Kiwibuild collapse shortly thereafter, the real estate market has remained a massive problem. From the report: “Cities with below-average house values recorded significant price increases for house purchases last year. These cities included Rotorua (11%), Palmerston North (10%), Dunedin (11%), and Invercargill (12%). For tenants, the affordability problems are even more difficult and mixed. Auckland rents appear to be stabilizing, while rents relative to wages have been gradually increasing since 2009. There are also signs of increasing rental pressure in Kaikohe, Rotorua, Hastings, Upper Hutt and Dunedin. “
The report gives a sense of optimism about small improvements with a strong call to continue the work. As Hutson wrote in his introduction: “The future state of the people and communities of Aotearoa New Zealand is in our hands. We have a responsibility as active and committed citizens to strive for a more just nation that increases and enriches each other’s mana. “
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