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Sallies Say Drop In Numbers Needing Assistance Through Covid-19 May Be The Calm Before The Storm

The Salvation Army is seeing numbers of people requiring food and other emergency assistance level off around New Zealand, in the wake of the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

“And last week’s Budget has helpfully set vulnerable Kiwi on a recovery journey,” says Lt-Colonel Ian Hutson, Director of The Salvation Army Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit (SPPU).

“The real challenges, however, lie ahead as more people lose jobs and income, and struggle to provide food, housing and life’s basics for their family.”

The Salvation Army Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit have produced fortnightly Dashboards during the Covid-19 crisis, highlighting the need created by the lockdown and suggesting Government policy action to assist vulnerable Kiwi to recover.

Last week’s Budget facilitated many of the policy approaches our fortnightly Dashboards suggested. “We are delighted with the breadth of the Government package and the unprecedented investments in housing, financial hardship, employment and food security,” Lt-Colonel Hutson says.

“The $5b Government package delivered what we asked for,” said SPPU housing policy advisor Major Campbell Roberts. “Our request was a multi-billion budget that delivered social housing, homeownership and rental to end the housing crisis. Detailed policy work still needs to be done, and the $5b won’t solve all housing problems, but this investment will provide housing for vulnerable New Zealanders in a way not done for many years.”

Transformational change can occur for families struggling with debt if the community budget sector implements policy well, says SPPU analyst Ronji Tanielu. The Covid-19 recovery Budget doubled funding to 131 budgeting services over two years to $25 million.

However, with the Dashboards highlighting worrying trends in financial hardship over the last two months, the question is whether this funding boost will alleviate the current and future levels of financial hardship.

“Only time will tell,” Mr Tanielu says. “In the meantime, we will continue to work with the Government to fully understand the financial effects of this pandemic and develop comprehensive measures and regulation around financial hardship and problem-debt.”

Unprecedented demand on Salvation Army food banks has been assisted by generous public donations of $4.8 million. Additionally, the Budget provided two significant initiatives to respond to food insecurity – funding for community food distribution and a significant extension of the ‘food in schools’ programme.

While grateful for these initiatives, we still think an attempt to address the underlying causes of food hardship is needed. The Salvation Army will continue to work with the Government and others to design a transition away from servicing hunger, into networks which enhance the food security of all New Zealand communities.

One of the most substantial areas of the recovery Budget was its focus on wage subsidies, supporting job creation and training. Income support for those left without jobs, however, remains problematic. Recovery and transformation out of this crisis will require income support policies that also enable unwaged people to live with dignity and participate in society.

The Salvation Army predicts in the next six months, the impact of Covid-19 on people’s mental health will become more apparent and lead to an increased demand for help with gambling, alcohol and drug issues. The Army will continue to encourage the Government to meet this demand by funding additional addiction treatment capacity.

This Dashboard is the last of the fortnightly Dashboards. The SPPU will continue monitoring the impacts of Covid-19 and the Government policy response required over the next two years.

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