Yesterday the Government’s families package was made live, fulfilling a significant promise made to support families by Labour.
Whilst I welcome this package, it is only a a start and there are several more things that need to be done for the Government to be able to say this is meaningful progress. They are:
- Making housing affordable
- Sorting out the Ministry of Social Development and its umbrella agencies
- Overhauling M.S.D. services
- Making schooling affordable
- Enabling grandparents who are caregivers/custodians to get better social support
- Looking for and removing invisible barriers to paternity for men
This is the obvious one. Without affordable housing the rest of the families programme will have superficial benefits to those who are eligible. The answers are not all in increasing allowances. The houses that are no longer considered to be meth contaminated need to be made usable again as fast as possible. The tenancy legislation needs to be reviewed since recent cases involving both tenants and landlords show its judicial provisions are in need of an overhaul.
Sorting out the Ministry of Social Development
I have mentioned the need to sort out the M.S.D. elsewhere. It has a major trust issue with clients that is as damaging to it as it is to the clients, but also there is a significant amount of internal waste in M.S.D. that suggests internal processes need an overhaul.
The M.S.D. financial services such as their benefits and allowances need to be appended to a market indicator such as the consumer price index instead of being allowed to slowly wither away.
Whilst we live in a digital age there is a real need for a back to basics approach in initial schooling. I have long had a problem with the fact that a lot of students cannot read words on a page, but also there is a need to teach mathematics on paper first – all students should know how to show the working for an equation on paper before they do it on computer. Reading, writing and counting on paper first will help to cut costs to the parents and their school. It will also enable more targetted extra assistance for special needs students to be made available.
Grandparents who are caregivers/custodians
The number of grandparents who find themselves in this role is climbing. Given this is the time when many of them will have reached retirement age and one assumes be enjoying the fruits of their working career, the complete absence of assistance to them is not so much wrong as it is criminal. Whatever financial assistance is offered to low income parents for the purpose of raising their children should be available dollar for dollar to grandparents who find themselves taking on the role of the mother and the father.
Invisible barriers to paternity
One might think I am being sexist here. No I am not. Men trying to be responsible solo parents do find themselves coming up against barriers unforeseen, thrown up by poorly worded social legislation, unthinking public servants and Government agencies. Much of it is unintended, but just as a few sexist attitudes about women still being in the home exist, so to do the attitudes that men should leave the child raising to the womenfolk. This can range from difficulty accessing child support payments, to mental health support among other needs.
New Zealand has work to do with both genders in addressing gender equality. We pay lip service only in some respects to addressing this.