Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill - Third Reading

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

STUART SMITH: It is a pleasure to speak on the Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill. Often I think members read out the name of the bill, the longer the better, to take up a bit of time but I am not doing that tonight. It is a pleasure and I would like to pay due homage to Tracey Martin for bringing this bill forward.

I note in the speech that she led off the third reading with that she paid a lot of credit and said that it is not her bill; it is Diane Vivian’s bill. I take on board what she was saying and I know the point that she was trying to make, but one of the responsibilities that comes with being a member of Parliament is passing legislation, and this is the only way that it can be done. So I know what you are saying, but actually it is your bill. It is your name that is going to be on it, Tracey, and it is quite an achievement to get it this far.
As has been alluded to, you had to do a deal but that is politics. Politics is the art of the possible, so well done for doing that. I also think there is quite a bit of irony tonight as it was only last week in the Budget debate we were given a hard time for not speaking for long enough, now we are being given a hard time for speaking for too long. I think it is a bit of an odd thing but that is politics. I guess being in Opposition is about opposing, so that is fair enough I guess.

I was not on the select committee that considered this bill because obviously it was done prior to the election, but it seems like a pretty good result that has come through from this bill. I think, as has been spoken about by Jenny Salesa, the previous speaker, that it is a pretty tough sort of a thing to have to deal with. I know that those families in that situation have got enough to deal with without having to worry about money, but this is what this bill seeks to address.

Under section 363 of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989, the chief executive is responsible for the administration and has the discretion to determine rates of payment for foster children. At present that discretion has been used to determine a rate for clothing allowances for which orphans and unsupported children are not eligible, so this bill seeks to address that.

This bill seeks to insert new section 29B into the Social Security Act 1964 to establish a clothing allowance for children whose caregivers receive an orphans benefit or an unsupported child’s benefit, and that will allow this mechanism to work. In the interim the Government, as part of the Children’s Action Plan, has committed an extra $10 million to provide further support for kin carers, and a ministerial reference group was set up to organise the funding and how that might be applied.

An unsupported child’s benefit is available only when a family breaks down, as was mentioned in other cases, but the orphans benefit applies when the children’s parents have died or cannot be found. Either of those situations is very traumatic for the family as a whole, certainly for the children, and when kin carers step in to deal with this, they have enough to deal with without having to go with the knowledge that they are not actually getting the same amount of money that they would do if they were they looking after a child who was not related to them. As I said, this bill seeks to address that.

I think one of the major things we need to realise is that under the current rules there is no income test or asset test for the people receiving these benefits. They can receive another benefit at the same time, which obviously makes sense—they are going to have extra costs. The child automatically qualifies for a community services card, which is a great financial benefit for them.

We have to recognise, as one of my colleagues said earlier, that there are more than 12,000 children in New Zealand who are being looked after by kin carers. That is a heck of a lot of children when you think about it. It must be pretty traumatic for those families, but it is not that many generations ago that families were involved as a matter of course with the wider family in bringing up children. I know that in the Pacific Island community, in particular, in my electorate this is quite common today. It is not, generally, in the Pākehā community, but if we go back only a few generations that was the case.

I think we have lost something today when we no longer have that close connection with grandparents in that way. There is so much you can learn from previous generations. Lots of things were passed down through the families, as in fact is the way with Māori and Pasifika. That is in fact how their whakapapa was passed down. I think that is an interesting thing and I hope it keeps up, as it is going through a renaissance at the moment.

For those grandparents bringing up children today, the gap between the age of a grandparent and a grandchild is much greater than it was all those generations ago when families were involved. Couples are now choosing to have their families later in life than they were before—whereas they would often by their 20s, they are now in their mid-30s often and late-30s. So that gap for the grandparents is much greater.

In addition to that, technology has come into play today, and a whole lot of things have moved on and I am sure most people and members in the House are involved with social media in one form or other, as I am. I see that my colleagues are busy indulging in it at the moment. I have teenage children and they are light years ahead of me in the way they utilise social media.

Chris Bishop: That’s a lot of rubbish.

STUART SMITH: It is true.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Trevor Mallard): Can the member at least attempt to relate that to the bill.

STUART SMITH: I am, Mr Assistant Speaker. There is a refresher course offered to grandparents and kin carers who are returning to the front line of parenting, and it is absolutely a part of that. It is a very important part, I believe.

More than 300 children have benefited from the first round from the Extraordinary Care Fund, and this is going back to the select committee decision, which I will come to in a moment. The grants that are available are up to $2,000 per child. That covers extra tutoring for kids struggling at school, orthodontic work that is not funded by the Ministry of Health, the costs of attending national and regional sports tournaments, and music lessons where a child is progressing ahead of their peers.

I think when a child is in a situation where they are being brought up by their grandparent or kin carer and when they have a talent or they need some extra help with their tutoring or with orthodontic work, it is only right that they should have the funding to cover that. I think that is fantastic. There has been a lot of talk about the 2018 implementation date, but I note that the select committee decided that the existing measures that are in place, which I have just spoken about along with changes proposed to the bill, which have been accepted, would sufficiently address the issue of parity.

The school and year start-up payment for carers is a new policy initiative and its funding is expected to fall back within baseline levels by 2018.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Trevor Mallard): Order! For the last minute I am going to challenge the member not just to read out the report.

STUART SMITH: I am not reading out the report.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Trevor Mallard): Word for word.

STUART SMITH: OK. The select committee made a decision to put the implementation date out to 2018, and I think that if we do not do that we are going to fix one inequity by creating another. I think it makes perfect sense to delay the start until 2018. They will not be any worse off, although it will be under a different payment format. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I commend the bill to the House.