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A positive future for children in Manukau

Hon Steve Maharey
10 December 2004 Speech Notes

A positive future for children in Manukau

Address to the Annual Review of the Collaborative Action Plan on Child Poverty in Manukau

Introduction

The Manukau Action Plan is a pioneering document.

New Zealand’s first action plan to have the specific goal of eliminating child poverty, it has strong links with the Agenda for Children, the Government’s national programme of action for improving the lives of New Zealand’s children.

Ending child poverty is a key action area in the Agenda. The Manukau Action Plan’s one-year progress report shows very encouraging progress towards achieving that goal for Manukau – and, by setting a lead for others to follow, for New Zealand as a whole.

Many agencies and organisations have contributed to the Action Plan over the past year. Reading this first progress report, I was impressed by the extraordinary level of collaboration among agencies and organisations, from strategic partnerships to close networks of referrals and programmes.

I was impressed by the very comprehensive approach to ending child poverty – addressing the housing, health, and safety needs of the community, and including objectives for Maori, Pacific peoples, new settlers, and children with disabilities.
I was impressed by the sheer practicality of so many initiatives, such as – to name but a few – the Getting Started physical activity and nutrition programme, the road, water, and fire safety projects, the delivery of over 1300 meals a day to Manukau schoolchildren through Food in Schools, the research into the effects of poverty on children with disabilities, and the promotion of the Community Services Card among Pacific people.

The Manukau Action Plan graphically demonstrates that action, not talk, gets results.

As Minister for Social Development in a Government that is committed to action in rebuilding New Zealand as a land of opportunity and equality, I am heartened and gratified to see so much government activity included in this first progress report.

The government’s social development approach

When the Labour government took office in 1999, we inherited a social and economic landscape very different to the one we inhabit today. Years of a a narrow economic agenda, with no concern for social outcomes, had resulted in a social deficit that marginalised many New Zealanders. What’s more, that narrow economic agenda had not produced the promised growth; New Zealand was in the economic doldrums.
To rebuild the economy and reduce the social deficit, we needed to put social development firmly back on the agenda. Social development means investing in people: investing in their health, education, and housing; investing in their skills and employment opportunities; investing in the families and communities that are the backbone of a healthy, thriving society.

Today, more New Zealanders are in work than ever before, and are earning more as well. The crime rate is declining. More young New Zealanders are reaping the benefits of early childhood and tertiary education. More New Zealanders have access to low-cost primary health care, and are paying affordable rents for state housing.

Far from being a drag on our economy, these achievements have in fact stimulated economic growth.

Over two million New Zealanders are now in work, and at 3.8%, we have the second-lowest unemployment rate in the OECD. Economic growth has averaged 3.7% a year for past five years.

We fully acknowledge that vulnerable members of our communities, such as low-income families, families who depend on a benefit, and many Maori and Pacific people, are yet to fully benefit from the progress we’ve made. The purely economic agenda of the 1990s had a particularly savage impact on some sections of our society – and the social deficit has not been entirely removed.

Nonetheless, progress is happening, and progress will continue. Some government initiatives, like Working for Families, are still new, so we can expect to see results further down the track; some, like our housing policies, are showing positive improvements today.


Housing

Around New Zealand, families and communities are gaining from lower state housing rentals, greater access to housing assistance, and from a raft of programmes to improve the quality and availability of Housing New Zealand Corporation stock.

Here in Manukau, Clendon is one of the communities benefiting from HNZC’s Community Renewal Programme, a national programme improving the standard of housing, health, education, amenities and employment opportunities in low socio-economic areas. Work and Income and HNZC’s ‘one stop shop’ site in Mangere is giving clients of both agencies quick and easy access to services, and enabling staff to identify issues that might not come to the attention of an agency working alone.

The Healthy Housing project between HNZC and Counties Manukau District Health Board is reducing housing overcrowding and associated diseases like meningococcal disease and rheumatic fever.
Properties are being made warmer, healthier, and more energy efficient, thanks to HNZC’s modernisation and Energy Efficiency Retrofitting Programmes.

At a national level, around 90% of state tenants now pay no more than 25% of their total household income in rent. This translates into more than 55,000 New Zealand families paying affordable housing costs. Many are also already gaining from the wider housing assistance made available in Working for Families.

Working for Families

The Working for Families package in Budget 2004 will improve the incomes and living standards of almost 300,000 low-to-modest income families, whether they get their income from work or a benefit. The key components of the package are substantial increases in Family Support, a new In-Work Payment for working parents, and increased assistance with childcare and housing costs.

Using a poverty value measure of 60% of median household income before housing costs, Working for Families is expected to lead to a 30% reduction in child poverty by 2007/08. Using a 50% of median household income measure, the expected reduction in child poverty will be 70%.

The new In-Work Payment, combined with more generous abatement thresholds for Family Support and childcare and housing assistance, means that Working for Families will deliver significant gains to parents who move off benefit into employment. Work really will pay, and families will have the chance to escape the poverty trap created by financial disincentives to employment.

I’m delighted to see Working for Families recognised as part of the progress towards reducing child poverty in Manukau. I’m also delighted to see Work and Income’s commitment to working closely with advocates and support agencies recognised, along with the commitment to ensuring clients know about and can access all the income assistance available.

As our growing economy delivers more jobs, more New Zealanders are enjoying the social and economic benefits of work. In the 2003/04 financial year, Work and Income helped almost 90,000 clients into employment – just over 7,500 of them here in Manukau.

The government’s Job Partnerships with Industry are providing job seekers with the skills they need to gain careers in our key industries. Tailored strategies like the Migrant and Refugee Strategy here in Auckland, and the new service for Sickness and Invalids Benefit clients, are opening up opportunities to new groups of New Zealanders – and helping employers find the workers they need.

Education and health

Our substantial investment in education is giving New Zealanders access to the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the global economy of the 21st century. In the past five years, we’ve increased education spending across the whole sector by 39%.

The Tertiary Education Strategy is building better quality and relevance in the tertiary education sector.
Schemes like Modern Apprenticeships and Gateway are providing career pathways for school-leavers, while youth transitions services are working with young people at risk of missing out on work, training, or further education after they leave school.

We’ve made big investments in early childhood education; by 2007/08, spending on early childhood education will be up by 79%, as we move towards providing 20 hours a week free education and care for three and four year olds in community-based centres.

Here in Manukau, health education in schools is a big focus. Health Promoting Schools is forging ahead, with 28 more schools working with Public Health Nurses to adopt the HPS model. Health Promoting Schools are working closely with the District Health Board to roll out the Meningococcal Immunisation Project and a diabetes prevention strategy.

The five AIMHI schools in Manukau City have set up student support centres to provide on-site health, social work, and counselling services. I’m very supportive of the Health Board’s goal to link Healthy Community Schools into a wider youth interagency strategy.

At a national level, the government’s Primary Health Care Strategy is making quality primary health care affordable and accessible. The first two Primary Health Organisations were established in July 2002; a little over two years later, we now have 77 PHOs, with some 90 per cent of New Zealanders – 3.7 million in total -- enrolled.

We have already lowered the cost of access to health care for under-18 and over-65 year olds enrolled with a PHO; next year, we will add 18-24 year olds, and by July 2007 all New Zealanders will be eligible.

The Face of the Future

Manukau City brands itself ‘the face of the future’, and rightly so. With a population of almost 300,000, you are New Zealand’s third largest city – and you are growing fast, with over 5,500 new arrivals every year. Over 150 different ethnic groups live in Manukau; 16% of your population are Maori, 27% Pacific peoples, and 16% are another non-European ethnicity. 27% of your population is under 15, and almost half – 43% -- is under 25.

That diversity and youth are powerful assets for Manukau. The challenge for us all is to embrace that diversity, not only with our words, but with our deeds as well.

Embracing diversity means giving all members of our society the same opportunities to participate in education and employment, the same opportunities to reach their potential, the same opportunities to enjoy productive lives with positive futures.

The Labour government is committed to offering all New Zealanders the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of economic and employment growth. We do not subscribe to the free market approach of allowing a select few to prosper while many go without.

This month the government will release Opportunity for All New Zealanders, our overarching framework for social investment. Opportunity for All sets out the strategies of 34 government agencies – strategies that will contribute to a healthy, prosperous, secure and dynamic future for all groups in our society.

Opportunity for All will also respond to the findings in the Social Report, the government’s annual ‘report card’ on our progress towards economic and social well-being for everyone.

Conclusion

I want to close by acknowledging the people who developed and launched the Collaborative Action Plan on Child Poverty in Manukau: Te Ora O Manukau, Manukau the Healthy City.

Over the past decade, Te Ora O Manukau has worked tirelessly to develop solutions to child poverty in Manukau. By developing the Action Plan, it has given Manukau a practical, realistic path ahead for helping families and children out of poverty.

The Action Plan will contribute to the city’s strategy and vision to 2011, Tomorrow’s Manukau – Manukau Apopo. It will contribute to the vision of the Agenda for Children: that New Zealand is a great place to be a child, where we all look after each other. Most importantly, it is already achieving positive and measurable results in the lives of Manukau’s children.

Like the Agenda for Children, the Action Plan recognises that ending child poverty and improving children’s lives are not one-dimensional endeavours. We need to address the multiple causes and effects of poverty. We need to work together to develop integrated solutions at an individual, family/whanau, community, and national level. We need to celebrate every success we achieve, while acknowledging that the journey is a long one, and not always easy.

The government is committed to building strong, healthy families and communities where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential. We are committed to giving our children the start they need to embark on productive and fulfilling adult lives.

This first Action Plan progress report affirms for me the value and necessity of working in partnership with the many people and organisations who share these commitments.

My warmest congratulations to Manukau City Council, Te Ora O Manukau, and the more than thirty agencies and organisations who have contributed to a successful first year of the Action Plan.

Thank you.


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