To improve well-being, Govt must fund NGOs fairly

The government’s plans to enhance well-being and tackle a number of social challenges in Aotearoa New Zealand are unachievable without the community / NGO sector being properly supported, ANZASW Chief Executive Lucy Sandford-Reed said today.

“Non-government social service providers are potential game-changers in communities with the lowest levels of well-being according to the government’s own metrics,” Sandford-Reed said.

“Yet, like so many of the people they serve, these organisations have been struggling to make ends meet for years. We know from members and service users that the programmes provided are making a difference, but at the same time they are falling behind in their ability to meet the demand in their communities because of under-resourcing,” she noted.

“If the government is serious about reducing poor social statistics and promoting well-being this should be the very next item on their agenda,” she continued.

The severity of the shortfall was highlighted in ‘Social Service System: The Funding Gap and How to Bridge it,’ an independent report commissioned by the Social Services Providers Aotearoa (SSPA), which was released this week. It shows that community social services are being under-funded by $633 million and that social service providers are receiving only two thirds of the costs they require to deliver their programmes.

“At a time when there is a high demand for social services, and data on social indicators of well-being are delivering a stark message, it is unjustifiable that funding gap for social services in the irreplaceable community-based NGO sector is well over half a billion dollars,” Sandford-Reed said.

“Among the hardest hit by this under-funding crisis are Māori Providers employing social workers who are working on the frontlines of the crises that the government says it wants to end,” she added.

“Take the dire statistics on suicide in the Māori community, for example: to meaningfully address the issue, community-based organisations need to recruit and retain experienced staff and receive sustainable funding, rather than relying on philanthropic funders to fill the gaps. The only way this can be done is by the government making commitments,” she observed.

A big part of this is for Government to ensure pay parity for social workers in the NGO sector so that social work professionals are not drawn away to statutory agencies where the pay can be as much as a third higher,” Sandford-Reed said.

“To this end, the Public Service Association has filed a pay equity claim for NGO social workers, a move which we fully support,” she added.

“Social services in this country are already close to being a two-tier system, given the pay and funding divides between state agencies and community organisations,” she noted.

“It is often claimed that the NGO sector does not work with the same level of complex family and community situations that Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children, does therefore pay disparity is acceptable. Yet both sectors engage in similarly challenging work, often supporting both children / tamariki and their caregivers, engaging with the whole family / whānau as they address multiple, inter-connected issues; in many cases in direct partnership with state agencies,” Sandford-Reed observed.

“It is often the NGO social worker who is the first to assess whether a person is being neglected or abused and who takes a range of actions to address this. They consequently are often the first to draw attention to a situation of vulnerability, who is most likely exposed to the most graphic detail of this, then has to make immediate and complex decisions to involve other services,” she continued.

“We hope that politicians across the political spectrum heed this report and adopt its recommendations, including fully funding all essential services provided by NGOs,” she concluded.