Budget will tackle poverty - English

Bill English
Bill English
Finance Minister Bill English says there will be practical measures in Thursday's Budget to tackle poverty.

He said the Budget would outline changes to the distribution of social housing and confirmed there would be more measures to address housing affordability, besides the accord the Government signed last week the Auckland Council on land supply.

"We don't believe there is a solution to poverty in general," he told reporters at Parliament "so I wouldn't expect any large scale intervention."

Mr English said the Government already spent hundreds of millions on disadvantaged families now and it had undermined the ability of families to take responsibility for themselves.

Too often in the past services had tried to generally support people who were disadvantaged but there was a small number of people who were in significant deprivation.

"They need to be found, they need relationships built, trust built and, in a lot of cases, hope rebuilt. It's a complex process and there aren't easy solutions."

Some of the increases for programmes would be new spending from the $800 million new operating allowance and some would be from savings from other programmes.

On social housing he could not comment on the overall numbers of state houses but said there could be different distribution.

The Government wanted to see more organisations providing houses. Churches, non-Government organisations wanted to get access to the same subsidies as Housing Corporation.

"There will be no reduction in subsidy - in fact probably an increase - but they will be distributed a bit differently."

He said he was not signalling any change in the accommodation supplement.

Asked about food in schools, Prime Minister John Key said the Government had been working arrange of organisations (Fonterra, KidsCan, and the Fruit in Schools programmes) that worked with schools and hinted there could be a boost in the Budget.

He said there was risk that the message might be parents did not need to take responsibility.

"The message from Government is that you absolutely do. But in the end, if a youngster heads off to school and doesn't have food or whatever it might be, isn't properly cared for by the parent, for whatever reason, then we can leave that child on their own but in the end they become a victim."

Labour leader David Shearer said he would welcome it if the focus of the Budget was on child poverty, and "where there is good policy, we are not going to stand in the way".

He said extra funding for meals for school children tallied with Labour's policy but it would have to be properly resourced.

"It is our policy to put food in schools. If the Government was going to do that, we would welcome it. We've waited seven years since they said they were going to do it, so if they are going forward we would welcome it."

He said he agreed that a more targeted approach was needed than that proposed by Mana leader Hone Harawira, whose members bill would provide a free meal for all children in decile one and two schools.

"What we don't want to do is excuse parents from sending kids to school with breakfast and lunch. What we do want is to have a safety net there for those kids who don't have that opportunity," Mr Shearer said

While Labour would welcome any such spending, he remained sceptical.

"What the Government wants to be able to do is demonstrate that they are not just about vested interests, that in fact they are actually about New Zealanders. They have a long way to go to persuade New Zealanders that they are not actually just looking after their mates in this Budget."

He said the focus had to be on issues such as jobs, affordable homes and bringing down power prices.

- By Audrey Young of the New Zealand Herald

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