Kindness doesn’t replace food.

David Kenkel sits on the TEU Industrial and Professional Committee and is a Senior Lecturer - Social Practice, School of Healthcare and Social Practice, Unitec. He discusses the impact of the budget on those who live on benefits.

As a lecturer in social work and someone who has had extensive experience working with both domestic violence and families in difficulty there is much that is praiseworthy about this budget.

To speak to just a few areas - the focus on mental health is excellent, as is the increase of funding and support to Oranga Tamariki. Both areas have been direly underfunded as were social services more generally until very recently. Reading between the lines, and in hopeful anticipation, the new funding regimes will allow a more collective all-of-society approach to difficulties rather than the systematic focus on the individual-seen-as-problem under previous governments.

It is great news that family violence and sexual violence are at last appearing to be taken seriously. I hope that the new funding will allow an increase in initiatives that recognise that domestic violence and sexual violence are not problems simply sited in aberrant individuals, but instead, are problems that we all to need to address. It is well understood that it is not social workers and psychologists who will stem the flood of violence in New Zealand, rather it is we who are parents, neighbours, friends and whanau.

Where the budget is deeply disappointing is in its failure to take up recommendations 19 to 23 of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s excellent report “ Whakamana Tāngata - restoring dignity to Social Security in New Zealand”. In essence, these recommendations are simple in the extreme: increase benefits by a significant proportion.

The struggles that so many New Zealanders face do not require a complex analysis to make sense of. The struggles all too often come down to one simple word - poverty. When a family or an individual do not have enough money to meet their basic needs, as is the case at present for a large majority of beneficiaries, then despair and hopelessness become unsurprising daily companions.

The analogy that comes to mind is treating starvation with kindness and vitamins but somehow forgetting to give more food. You can be sure that the kindness and vitamins are appreciated, but what is really needed is simply more calories.

While there is much that is praiseworthy in this budget it does fall short of Joseph Michael Savage’s aspiration to create a society where all have the needed resources to live in dignity and health.