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Church agencies ‘cautiously jubilant’ over social services funding boost

Christian social service providers are cautiously applauding the Labour-led government’s announcement of major new funding for essential social services.

The money – $446 million over the next four years – will be targeted at services for families, children, and young people provided by community groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Methodist Missions and Presbyterian Support.

Social Development Minister Ruth Dyson says community organisations are sometimes better placed than core government agencies to provide practical support for families.

“They understand their communities and the families who live in them, and they are more likely to be the first port of call for families seeking help.”

Ruth says the package represents a new model of funding that will encourage high-quality and relevant services for those who need them. It also aims to reduce duplication of services.

“Essential services are those that would need to be provided by the government if a community organisation did not provide them. With this funding community groups will now have more certainty,” she says.

“Fully funding their contracted services will give them more ability to plan ahead, attract and retain qualified staff and improve their effectiveness. It will not change the vital role that volunteers perform in many community organisations and donations will continue to be an important fundraising source to support other services.”

The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) is very pleased with the decision to fully fund NGOs that provide essential social services. NZCCSS believes the much needed funding will help providers build more robust communities and healthier families.

NZCCSS is an umbrella group that represents the social service agencies of the Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Salvation Army churches. It says under the previous partial funding system, Christian social service providers were struggling to meet the needs of their communities.

NZCCSS has been receiving reports of ever-growing demand and increasingly difficult social problems. These have been highlighted by the recent spate of injuries and deaths reported in the media.

Shaun Robinson is vice president of NZCCSS and chief executive of Presbyterian Support East Coast, based in Hawkes Bay. He says the decision is positive because it takes a long-term view and looks at issue of capacity, compliance and funding.

“I would say I am cautiously jubilant about this announcement. It is what the community sector has been calling for for many years,” Shaun says.

“A big chunk of the social services have never been fully funded and they have not even received cost of living increases. Over the past ten years funding has lost 30 percent of its value as cost and wages have increased.

“A lot of people have been singing the same song and the timing was right for the government to respond. Opposition leader John Key says National thought of this six months ago. The fact that the two major parties are taking credit for it shores up my optimism.”

Nevertheless, Shaun says, the devil is in the detail and this sentiment is echoed by Christchurch Methodist Mission superintendent Rev Michael Greer.

“It is too early to tell exactly what the increased funding will look like,” Michael says. “In two to three months we will know the real level of support we will receive. It will depend on exactly what is defined as an essential service and how much of the spending is spread over several financial years.

“Cynicism aside, this is a profound announcement that has changed the playing field. It will mean more money for programmes that we have either funded ourselves or the government has funded at 40, 50 or 60 percent levels.

“We are talking about services such as developing parenting skills for non-custodial parents so they are better able to engage with their children. The government sees this as a vital service put until recently it has received nil or partial funding.”

Michael says another positive aspect of the government’s announcement is its intention to reduce audit compliance costs. In the last few years compliance measures have escalated to the point of being onerous. He says the church-based social services believe in best practice and the need to account for the money they receive. But every dollar spent on compliance is a dollar less spent on a vital social service.