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$500m children, families package at heart of Budget

$500m children, families package at heart of Budget

Investing almost $500 million more in the well-being of New Zealand’s children and families is at the heart of new spending in Budget 2014, Finance Minister Bill English says.

“Families will benefit from a growing economy offering more jobs and higher wages, and it is also appropriate that they are among the first to benefit from extra government spending as the economy picks up,” he says.

“Budget 2014 provides a comprehensive package of practical measures focused on young families and those vulnerable children who most need our care and protection.
“We’re extending and expanding paid parental leave and increasing the parental tax credit, so that parents have more choices about what’s best for them at an important time for their families.
“We’re also making doctors’ visits and prescriptions free for children under 13. Under-sixes already have free GP visits, and responsible fiscal management allows us to extend that to their older brothers and sisters, meaning nearly every pre-school and primary school child will be covered until they turn 13.”

Budget 2014 will extend paid parental leave from 14 to 18 weeks in two affordable steps, as well as widening eligibility and increasing flexibility.

“We know that financial pressure is the main reason parents return to work earlier than they would like to after having a baby. So extending paid parental leave in a responsible and affordable way makes it easier for parents to take more time off work, if they choose to,” Mr English says.

“In addition, we are broadening paid parental leave so that permanent guardians and parents in less-regular work – for example, seasonal or casual workers, and those who have recently changed jobs – can receive parental leave payments.”

It is estimated that these changes will make up to 1,400 extra families eligible for parental leave payments.

Some flexibility will also be introduced to paid parental leave to allow, for example, an employee to attend a course or work an occasional day. Details of the flexibility will be confirmed after public consultation.

“Because we want to support families in making the choices that are best for them, it is only fair that when increasing paid parental leave we also increase the parental tax credit, which hasn’t been raised since 1999.”

This tax credit is paid when low and middle-income working families who are not on a benefit, and who don’t receive paid parental leave, have a new child. Budget 2014 provides for the parental tax credit to increase from $150 a week to $220, and extends the payment period from eight weeks to 10 weeks.

In addition to extensions to paid parental leave, the parental tax credit, and free GP visits for children, the Budget provides funding to enable more pre-schoolers to attend quality early childhood education, as well as funding to help New Zealand’s most vulnerable children.

“We are rolling out eight more children’s teams around the country to help protect our most vulnerable children from abuse and to ensure they are getting the social services they need.

“We are introducing comprehensive risk screening of people who work closely with children. And we are providing additional funding to help support children in the care of Child, Youth and Family,” Mr English says.

The five elements of the children and families package include operating funding over the next four years of:
• $171.8 million to boost the paid parental leave scheme. Paid leave will be extended by four weeks – starting with a two-week extension from 1 April 2015, and another two weeks from 1 April 2016. The eligibility of paid parental leave will also be expanded to include caregivers other than parents (for example, permanent guardians), and to extend payments to people in less-regular work or who recently changed jobs.
• $42.3 million to increase the parental tax credit from $150 a week to $220 a week, and increase the entitlement from eight weeks to 10 weeks, from 1 April 2015.
• $90 million to enable GPs to offer free doctors’ visits and prescriptions for children under the age of 13, starting on 1 July 2015. Over 400,000 more children will benefit by including six- to 12-year-olds.
• An additional $155.7 million to help early childhood centres to remain accessible and affordable, meet demand pressures and increase participation towards the Government’s 98 per cent target.
• $33.2 million in 2014/15 to help vulnerable children, including eight new children’s teams around the country to identify and work with at-risk children and their families, to screen people who work with children, and to support children in care.

“These measures are together worth $493 million over four years and are on top of the $359 million four-year Investing in Educational Success programme outlined by the Prime Minister earlier this year, which is also aimed directly at improving outcomes for children,” Mr English says.

“Although government spending is constrained, Budget 2014 makes the well-being of children and families a priority.

“Together, this comprehensive package fits within the Government’s consistent approach of supporting affordable measures that deliver results, while helping New Zealand families.”

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