Budget

Yes, there are free lunches

Budget 2020 includes increased spending on family support measures, from first aid for an ailing maternity care system, more money for early children education and after-school care, and many more free lunches, Lynn Grieveson reports

This year’s Child Poverty Report, which accompanies the Budget, is blunt.

“Rates of  material hardship are expected to rise sharply” it says, and officials have warned the Government that any modelling is “more likely to underestimate the likely increases in poverty rates over the coming years” as more families lose jobs and income.

So what do families, working or otherwise, get out of this year’s Budget?

For those just starting (or adding to) a family, funding for free maternity services, which have been facing cost and staffing pressures, is being increased by $57 million over four years. Funding of $30m a year over four years has also been set aside to implement the Government’s Maternity Action plan which it hopes will result in a more equitable and stable maternity system.

The Well Child Tamariki Ora programme, provided by Plunket and DHBs and including the B4 School health checks gets $71.2 million over four years.

Pre-school children will benefit from increased investment in early childhood education.

Funding to increase the pay of ECE teachers to bring it in line with that of kindergarten and school teachers was announced before Budget day, but the Budget also includes investment to help playcentres remain open and additional support for home-based educators.

People working as home-based educators (looking after other people’s pre-schoolers) will benefit from funding of $36.15m over four years to help them gain the minimum ECE qualification, and will be supported by visiting teachers as they complete the qualification.

In total, the Budget includes $414.2 million in spending on the early learning sector, and Grant Robertson said the Government would be making further announcements on the ECE sector.

There will be a major expansion of the school lunch programme, which will be funded as part of the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund. The Government estimates around 200,000 more children will be getting a free lunch every day by mid to late next year, and the programme will create around 2,000 new jobs.

Currently only 8,000 children get free lunches. The Budget allocates $216.7m in operating expenditure and $3.9m in capital expenditure to the programme.

Apples and broccoli

In addition, there is funding for a scheme to buy fruit, vegetables, eggs and other fresh produce that is at risk of going to waste (due to Covid-19’s disruption of supply chains). The food will be distributed to those in need and also use to scale up the Fruit in Schools programme.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said he expected to deliver an extra 100,000 fruit and vegetable boxes to children over 10 weeks.

The OSCAR before and after school programme gets an extra $9.6m spread over four years.

Children with disabilities may have a better chance of receiving learning support, thanks to increased funding of $38.86m spread over four years. Currently some types of learning support are capped at a certain amount across the population. The Government says the new funding will “maintain the value of learning support funding by adjusting it for changes in total student numbers”.

Oranga Tamariki gets more

The Budget includes $183 million for Family Violence Services, which the Government says is “the largest funding boost for these service providers in over a decade”.

Following critical reviews of Oranga Tamariki’s processes in the wake of Newsroom’s “Taken by the State” stories about child uplifts, the Budget also funds the setting up and operating of an Independent Children’s Monitor, which the Government says will strengthen the “independent oversight of Oranga Tamariki and children’s issues that have been identified in the Review of Independent Oversight of the Oranga Tamariki System and Children’s Issues commissioned by Cabinet.”

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