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In the election booth remember children and older people, say Christian social services

In its efforts to encourage people to think hard about social issues in this election year the NZ Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) has developed information packs on the issues facing the youngest and the oldest New Zealanders.

Horror stories in the media and statistics show that rates of child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and child poverty are too high in New Zealand. NZCCSS says this should be seen as an opportunity for a compassionate response that can provide a more secure future for everyone.

Unmanageable debt, inadequate incomes (through welfare payments or low wage work), and significant increases in living costs impoverish the lives of many Kiwi families. Children are at special risk of poverty as are beneficiaries with children, sole parents, and Pacific and Maori Families.

The Government has taken a positive step to address child poverty through Working for Families but excluding non-working families has caused the standard of living for children of beneficiary families to lag behind.

NZCCSS believes that the Government has a responsibility to provide a decent standard to living for everybody regardless of their employment status and needs to actively promote policies that reduce wealth disparities.

It calls for benefit levels and income support policies should aim to raise incomes above 60% of the median weekly wage. This could be done by reintroducing a universal child allowance, removing tax on first $5000 of annual income, and protecting low income people from cost increases for the basics such as food, power and petrol.

NZCCSS says the Government should also work with a range of stakeholders to develop a national strategy for family wellbeing. The strategy should integrate the different services families need.

The Government should also invest in preventive services to ensure that families can access quality community based support when they need it so that problems do not escalate.

More work is also needed to provide a valued place in our society for older people.

More people are living longer than ever before, and we should celebrate this as an outstanding achievement. With their skills and experience, older New Zealanders help maintain our social fabric through as workers, as parents, grandparents and caregivers and, as active members of the community.

Yet too often older people are portrayed as a burden on society, are exploited or even abused. Genuine issues of poverty, loneliness and sickness are too easily ignored.

NZCCSS argues that the realities of an ageing population put some fundamental challenges before all of us: Where and how shall we live? Who will be there to help us when it is needed? What choices will we be able to provide older people with?

Some answers can be drawn from the Christian social services' long tradition of support for older people, responding creatively to their needs, and working in partnership with governments to plan future services.

Now is also a time to think hard about political policy statements and to question local politicians and candidates about their policies.

Ultimately we can all play a part in building strong communities that value the lives of older people. This reflects a central message of Christian teaching that we are all interdependent and need to look after each other. This is the way towards a truly just and compassionate society.