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Cautious welcome for a benign budget

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 21/05/2015
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Child welfare advocates are cautiously welcoming the government's measures to help poor families.

The $790 million child hardship package is at the heart of what's being seen as a benign budget with more social policy gains than losses.

Finance Minister Bill English unveiled it on Thursday and not even the usually rampant opposition parties were able to condemn the government's approach.

Children's Commissioner Russell Wills says the $25 dollar a week benefit increase will help poor families with one child, but less so for those with more children.

And he wants to see a broader strategy, saying a one-off benefit increase doesn't amount to a plan to tackle child poverty.

Jonathan Boston, co-chair of the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, says the package is a welcome initiative but the modest increases will have only a marginal impact on child poverty, however it is measured.

The Salvation Army is concerned about the strings attached - work expectations on beneficiaries are being strengthened and solo parents will have to be ready for part-time work when their youngest child turns three, not five as it is now.

"While the ability to work helps lift the income of a family, the Salvation Army is not convinced that sufficient supports yet exist to ensure quality and safe arrangements for children," it said.

The benefit increases, and a lift in Working for Families payments for poor households not on benefits, won't start until April 1 next year.

Labour and the Greens have attacked that part of the package, saying no good reason has been put forward for the delay.

They've also set their sights on another budget decision - the axing of the $1000 KiwiSaver kick-start payment.

That was removed at 2pm on Thursday, leaving parliament to vote on retrospective legislation.

"Axing the kick-start was a nasty move, designed to save money by taking it from younger Kiwis," said Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei.

"It shows the government has abandoned young New Zealanders."

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