"A budget that shows NZ has come of age" - PSA members' hopes
Newly-minted Finance Minister Steven Joyce is putting the finishing touches on this week’s Budget – but among the election year lolly scramble, will there be good news for public services?
PSA members work hard under increasing constraints. They can only provide the services Kiwis deserve if they're properly resourced and funded.
We asked a few of our members what they’re hoping for from this year’s budget. (Please note, these are their wish-lists – not their employers’ – and should be read as such).
Helen Amey at the equal pay care and support settlement announcement
Helen Amey, home support worker, PSA delegate
We need to be focusing on in home care of our elderly. These people have worked hard all their lives, paid taxes and deserve to have the resources available to them so they can stay comfortable in their own homes for as long as they can. There are not enough aids to help these people through the public system. Most of them cannot afford to pay for equipment to aid them to live safely.
Agencies that provide care for our elderly only have enough funding for limited care.
We also need to extend the Equal Pay care and support settlement to mental health workers. The Ministry of Health excluded them from the deal offered to aged care, disability support and home support workers. It’s not equal if it’s not for everyone.
Jacky Maaka, PSA delegate convenor
When I think about the current political state of New Zealand, I think about the impact decisions today have on the future for my mokopuna. So with the upcoming Budget, the ‘elephant in the room’ for me is the state of our mental health and addictions system.
I’d like to see secure funding and a sustainable future for public health and mental health social care. Would it be too much to ask for a commitment to a greater focus on inequalities in mental health and addiction, particularly for Maori and Pacific peoples who have disproportionately poor physical and mental health outcomes. Just imagine how much better our society could be with early intervention so that people suffering from mental health issues can function and feel worthy and not feel like a burden and stigmatised.
Andy Colwell outside Auckland Hospital
Andy Colwell, PSA Mental Health Committee co-convenor
I work in the mental health sector and the reality is it’s in crisis. There needs to be a big increase in funding for mental health services as part of a bigger increase in funding across the health sector generally. Health workers are overworked and resources are stretched to breaking point. I see people who leave hospital when they are still unwell. Many other people I see are unable to cope; they are living on the streets or being exploited by unscrupulous landlords that run boarding houses.
We have to look at practical investments to improve mental health services. The government has to recognise that the health workers are the experts and leaders in this field, alongside people who access mental health services and family members as well. We are the ones that have to be fully involved in any discussion about what resources and services are needed. Only then will services improve.
Caro Fisher, PSA delegate, public service
I am a public servant in Gisborne and have been for the majority of my working life. The public service is a large employer – and in many regional areas our wages, contracts for service such as building maintenance, car maintenance, cleaning etc. contribute directly to the local economies.
Last year GDP increased by 2.6 percent in Gisborne while across New Zealand the average growth for the year was 4.1 percent. We’re 12th out of 15 regions. Yet we have a steady stable workforce, reasonable living costs and a great port. I want the budget to deliver funding so our regions can re- develop and grow in line with the rest of New Zealand.
Delivering great public services within ever-reducing government baselines is increasingly difficult for everyone in the public sector. Our services are not necessarily being improved or streamlined by technology changes and restructures – we are just working with less and we are expected to deliver the same as we did last year or more. Many people are overloaded and feel pressured to work longer hours. We work understanding that some of us may be restructured at a moment’s notice. I would like to see improved job security and valued employees.
Troy Baisden, PSA National Science Committee
Many of us believe that science and technology is our investment in big wins for future years. Now that the Government can firmly say budgets are in surplus, it would be great to see progress toward a stable, well-performing research system. For too many years we’ve been sitting at the bottom of the international league table, underinvesting in our future, and making cuts that likely cost us later.
In terms of where new investment should go, maintaining progress in well performing areas is always a good goal. Thus continued growth of the Marsden Fund should be an easy win. Then I’d focus on the areas where we really need to fix something, and the cost isn’t great. At the top of this list is the need to look after Kiwis who have just finished their PhDs. They need fellowships so they can establish stable and productive careers in New Zealand.
Finally, what I think most scientists would like is some evidence and assurance that we can get on with our jobs, so we can do amazing work that really benefits New Zealand. My look at past budgets finds that delays in new projects caused big budgets to go largely unspent, or to be converted into costs associated with contracting. These delays and costs cripple institutional flexibility. As a result, institutions haven’t been able to pick up the slack in areas where we know work is needed and sits outside of Science Challenges, like climate change mitigation. I’ll be looking for increases on this and similar topics, and a feeling that problems are being fixed rather than created.
In a nutshell, I’d like to see a budget that invests in our future, doesn’t cause hand-wringing over cuts in areas that can no longer be cut, and gets stuck into research where we know more action is needed to get benefits to society.
Benedict Ferguson, PSA Delegate, Auckland Council
What I want to see out of Budget 2017 is a focus on providing emergency and state housing for those that need it. The average rent in Auckland is now $520 per week. I can’t believe in 2017 when a family in need seeks help from our social agencies the first question they get asked is ‘do you have a car you can sleep in?’ When did sleeping in cars become a solution to emergency housing? If this Government can afford to spend $36m on the America’s cup, and $80k on Trump’s inauguration party, they can afford to increase spending on emergency and state housing.
Virginia Wilton, convenor, PSA Women’s Network
I want to see the value of women’s contributions recognised. New Zealand has a proud and strong history of leading the world in promoting the equal rights of women. But when it comes to paying women what we are worth, we have a long way to go.
Women, on average, earn 12% less than men. This illegal discrimination contributes to the increasing numbers of women-headed households, and their children living in poverty. It reduces our options and choices - impacts upon the health and welfare of our children - and sends the very strong signal that society do not value the contribution women make every day.
My hope is that Budget 2017 sends the message that New Zealand has come of age – that we are ready to pay women what we are worth. The Government will fund the public sector to ensure that equal pay is a reality, and through this send all employers the message that women are worth 100% and the illegal practice of paying women less than men ends in 2017.
Benedict Ferguson (left) and Daniel Haines (right) at a Stand Together event in Auckland
Daniel Haines, PSA delegate, Auckland Council
I want to see this budget acknowledge student poverty is not a rite of passage. Students are the only sector of society who are expected to borrow to pay for their most basic living costs. Over consecutive Budgets, this National-led Government has made egregious austerity cuts to student support. Sixty percent of students are terrified about the amount of debt they will graduate will, with detrimental follow-on effects for decisions about buying a house, starting a family, and travelling overseas. Consecutive budgets have slowly restricted access to critical financial support. No student should have to choose between a full stomach or health and counselling services.
Education is a fundamental human right, everyone with the ability to learn should be able to – it shouldn’t be restricted to just those with the deepest pockets. Many graduates are finishing their studies with a mortgage sized debt that can take more than a decade to finish paying off. The New Zealand education system should invest in its future. It’s unacceptable that anyone should be outside of education, training, or work.