New Zealand’s most vulnerable people have been ignored by the government because they are trying desperately to start the economy after a seven-week shutdown, lawyers say.
The country of 5 million has been tightly locked up for seven weeks and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates the economy could contract by as much as 8%, while thousands of people have joined the alms-line during the pandemic.
Supporters of public housing, mental health groups and several Māori representatives said the 2020 Budget “failed” to care for the country most in need, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s promise to measure success on the welfare of the population is being ignored in the Covid-19 crisis. .
There are 15,000 people on the waiting list for country houses – the highest record in the country – and only 8,000 new country houses announced on Thursday by finance minister Grant Robertson, a blow to the homeless as winter approaches and more people seek shelter.
Earlier this year, the UN special rapporteur on housing visited New Zealand and called the housing shortages and poor quality “an urgent human rights crisis” with families living in cars, tents and garages.
“The government’s announcement of 8,000 public houses and additional transitions is far from what is needed to remedy the New Zealand housing crisis,” said Scott Figenshow, chief executive of Aotearoa Community Housing.
“Many families will experience job loss, eviction or other forms of material difficulties during the New Zealand Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and the number of people on the waiting list for social housing will almost certainly increase.”
“We have called for 15,000 additional social housing sites since 2014. If we have those places now, that will reduce the suffering of homelessness that we continue to witness.”
Dr. Lucy Telfar Barnard, a senior researcher in the housing and health research program at Otago University, agreed.
“I see nothing in this budget to help improve the standards of people in poor quality rental homes, our most vulnerable household dwellings, and where new healthy housing laws can only do much.”
Tina Ngata, a Māori tribal commentator, said “there is still more to be done before them [the government] fulfilling their campaign promises about housing, “and although happy to see funds flowing to Māori community groups such as Whanau Ora,” it is disturbing to see funds going into more prison beds “.
Māori accounts for more than 50% of the prison population, although only 15% of the general population.
“As usual, it will depend on how they partner with Māori to implement the budget, and partnering with Māori is not their strength,” Ngata said.
Mental health – a subject that is at the heart of the 2019 “welfare” budget, and the 2017 Labor Party election campaign – does not judge in news releases issued by the government about this year’s budget, or in the finance minister’s speech.
Shaun Robinson, CEO of the Mental Health Foundation, said he was “disappointed and worried” that progress in the sector could be halted.
“One year on the track, not mentioned,” he said.
There was “clear discussion” with the government after the $ 1.9 billion promised for mental health for four years in the 2019 budget, said Robinson, where the ministers had promised, “there is more funding to come.”
While the government intends spending 2019 as a multi-year initiative, Robinson wants to “refute the idea that $ 1.9 billion is enough and will fix the problem,” adding that injection has followed a 10-year “underfunded” by the previous government.
But while mental health services have been abandoned, initiatives to create jobs in this year’s budget will provide enormous mental health support for many people, he said.
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