Budget 2022 is the talk of the towns, but what does it mean for people in Wairarapa? The Times-Age puts the money under the microscope.

The Opposition has called it the “Backwards Budget”, the “Brain Drain Budget”, and the “Big Blowout Budget”. With about $6 billion to be spent, there’s no doubt the government is splashing the cash in their fourth Wellbeing Budget.

But in Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s Thursday announcement, significant funding was attached to important sectors, including a record $11.1 billion for health, $299m specifically for Maori health services, extra funding to target organised crime, and increased access to justice.

Experts predicted some tranches of the funding to particularly benefit Wairarapa, including funding for air ambulance services, changes in eligibility for housing grants, and a one-off $350 cost of living payment.

We take a deeper dive into the region’s industries to see how Budget 2022 has been received.

Cost of living

Cost of living

A Cost of living $350 payment will be given over 3 months.

A $350 payment will be made available to 2.1 million New Zealanders from August 1.

Those 18 and older who earned less than $70,000 in the last tax year and did not already receive the winter energy payment would be eligible.

Money for the payment would come out of funding set aside for the government’s covid-19 response.

In Wairarapa, most residents the Times-Age spoke with had not heard of the payment plan yet.

Angus Allan, who said he earned a Living Wage, said the payment was generous.

“I’m surprised but happy they’re doing it.

“It’s probably not going to make too much of a difference, but it’s generous.

“I don’t think people at $70,000 will need it, but for those at $50,000, it will help.”

A Masterton resident said he would not be getting the sum, which equated to $27 a week over three months, and did not believe it would help.

“It won’t make any difference,” he said.

“You’ve got to go back to the root of things. Too much money is being given away without being checked.”

Another resident said the payment would help a little, but they would prefer a tax cut.

“Lower taxes would be more helpful than giving out money.”

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said tax cuts such as those proposed by National would not be as beneficial as the weekly payment.

“National is proposing indiscriminate tax cuts, meaning thousands of dollars a year will be saved by high-income earners.

McAnulty said $27 a week would make a difference for people, and the more targeted the spending, the less inflationary it would be.

He said the payment was for a specified period to help with inflation, which was projected to ease towards the end of the year.

Housing

Houses

First home buyers have seen some barriers to finance removed in the Budget as changes to First Home Grants and First Home Loans mean more people will be able to access support.

Budget 2022 allowed funding for about 7000 extra First Home Grants and 2500 extra First Home Loans every year.

Caps for First Home Grants rose in Wairarapa from $400,000 to $575,000 for existing homes and from $500,000 to $800,000 for new build properties.

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said he was delighted with the news.

“This is such good news for first home buyers.

“I’m absolutely stoked.

“I advocated really hard for caps in Wairarapa to be lifted, but I did not see that coming – the extent of the increase.

“The cap in Wairarapa is now higher than Christchurch and will mean first home buyers will be able to access $10,000 in grants. Real estate agents are already pointing this out to prospective buyers.”

Income caps remained the same but would be reviewed every six months along with house price caps.

The government allocated $1 billion to support the delivery of public and transitional housing.

McAnulty said Wairarapa could expect an announcement on social housing soon.

“I campaigned on the basis of bringing Kainga Ora back, and they have said they will return.

“I met with the Housing Minister yesterday to discuss the announcements in the Budget.

“Safe to say, I have a big smile on my face. There will be a significant announcement very soon, but that is all I can say right now.”

Health

Health funding

This year’s Wellbeing Budget included some of the most significant investments in health.

The Budget included $11.1 billion for HealthNZ and $168 million for the Maori Health Authority over the next four years for the health reform.

The government also announced an increase in the dental grant from $300 to $1000 for low-income workers and beneficiaries.

Te Hauora Runanga o Wairarapa chief executive Ronald Karaitiana called it a “People’s Budget” and said it addressed the most vulnerable people in the community.

He said it was essential to see funding support for kaupapa Maori organisations, such as Te Hauora, to continue their work in mental health and addiction spaces.

“For many years, we have had it wrong, only using western methodologies.

“We still have the social workers, nurses, and psychologists, but what we have found is that sometimes it’s just about being on the marae, with the community, and being present.

“And present in spaces where whanau can catch you.”

He said Te Hauora was the sole kaupapa Maori-based mental health service endorsed by both Ngai Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Rangitane o Wairarapa iwi.

“In relation to the budget, it will help us to keep communicating effectively.”

New Zealand Dental Association chief executive Mo Amso said the grant increase was overdue.

“This is the first time the grant has been increased in 25 years, so it’s outlived its lifetime.

“The increase is the most modest way for the dental grant to keep up with inflation.”

The union had been advocating for the grant increase for more than five years.

Amso said apart from serious accidents, most emergencies were preventable through regular check-ups.

“It is definitely a step in the right direction, but it won’t fully cover the cost of dental.”

However, the Budget did not include investment in children’s oral health, which the union also advocated for before the announcement.

Amso said children’s oral health was in crisis.

“There’s up to 60 per cent of children who are missing annual check-ups, which is alarming.”

He said it was a complex issue which affected the most vulnerable, including Maori, Pasifika, and rural communities, and said more investment was needed in infrastructure and awareness.

The Public Service Association [PSA] welcomed the Budget announcements as small steps in the right direction.

PSA national secretary Kerry Davies said she was pleased to see the decades-long fiction of DHB deficits had been dealt with.

“HealthNZ will start with a clean slate, as it should.

“We welcome the multi-year increases in investment in health and are pleased to see it locked in. The health system and those who work in it will now be able to focus more on what matters – the health of our communities.

“The investment in workers and workforce development is much needed and will be appreciated by our members who work in the health sector, in both DHB and community settings.

“We support the increase in investment for better Maori health outcomes. Despite being small investments in many small pots, the overall effect should lead us as a nation towards health equity.”

The Budget announced IT infrastructure to help free up workers’ time and create easier access to services.

The union also welcomed the dental grant increase, but Davies said it was just the first step.

“Dental care is unaffordable for most Kiwis and needs to be better integrated into our public health system.”

The nurses’ union was profoundly disappointed with the Budget announcement, where “nurses barely get a mention”.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation [NZNO] chief executive Paul Goulter said the union had expressed to the government on several occasions that the sector was in crisis.

He said significant funds were needed in the Budget to address staffing and pay issues.

“The government seems oblivious to the fact that it cannot have a robust and workable health system when there are chronic staffing issues that are worsening every day, but it seems the best it can do is $76 million for workforce development over four years.

“We’re not even sure what that means, but $19m a year is just loose change.”

Justice

Justice

The Budget’s justice sector funding included an extra $190m invested over four years to “maintain and strengthen” the legal aid system.

The announcement was welcomed by the New Zealand Law Society, heralding it as a victory for access to justice. However, Wairarapa lawyers were more tempered in their response.

Chief Justice Helen Winkleman described the legal aid system as “broken”, and in 2021 a Law Society survey showed a quarter of legal aid lawyers planned to reduce legal aid work or quit altogether, citing inadequate remuneration.

Wairarapa-based criminal defence barrister Fionnuala Kelly said the funding could make a difference if appropriately allocated.

She said about 90 per cent of her work was legally aided.

While lawyers were often overloaded with casework, she said the administrative hoop-jumping presented a specific challenge.

“The funding should go towards increasing fees for lawyers doing this work, and also to fund the legal services so that the grants offices can better deal with the administrative work.”

Kelly said the bureaucratic red tape to confirm a grant for family clients could sometimes lead to hours of free labour.

She hoped the boost would address the inequality in access to justice that she often saw play out in family court matters and criminal court for people on modest incomes.

“In some cases in the family court, the social reality is that the means testing for legal aid can result in quite gendered outcomes.

“This often occurs when families break up, and there are family court proceedings initiated.”

She said applications for parenting orders often coincided with protection orders being filed.

Kelly said if both parties were unemployed, they would immediately qualify for legal aid.

“However, if a party to those proceedings is working, they may not qualify for legal aid at all, or that might be granted subject to an extremely onerous repayment.”

She said the social reality for young families was that the man was often the working partner.

“In such cases, the non-legally aided person may try to muddle through the court themselves, but more often than not, they will simply not respond to proceedings.”

Kelly said the consequences of such an imbalance were serious, citing final protection orders made against people who had not defended the application.

When orders were made involving children, she said it could sometimes signal the end of the relationship between the children and the non-responding parent.

“They end up feeling alienated by the system and very distrustful of it. It is very unfair.”

Kelly hoped that Thursday’s announcement signalled a shift in means-testing for applicants so that more working people would qualify for legal aid.

Police

New Zealand police car

Close up New Zealand police car with policeman on background

A big chunk of funding was directed towards increasing police numbers and targeting gang violence.

There was also extra funding to ensure police numbers kept up with population growth, with a targeted ratio of one officer for every 480 people.

An additional $94m was ring-fenced for tackling gangs and organised crime.

Wairarapa Senior Sergeant Ian Osland said the region’s police officers would move forward with whatever funding was allocated.

“Anything that comes out of the Budget for us locally will be gratefully accepted and utilised to target those that want to cause harm in the community.”

He said Wairarapa was no exception to organised crime and gang violence.

“Part of our national priority is to tackle the organised crime impact on our community, and Wairarapa isn’t immune to having those groups established in the area.”

After a challenging year, police staffing numbers had increased in Wairarapa.

Osland said district leadership discussions would determine what extra funding meant for local staffing.



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