Coronavirus: Salvation Army pleads with Government to put Budget money aside in five key areas

The Salvation Army is pleading with the Government to put aside money in next week's Budget in five key areas, in an effort to stop the social harm caused by COVID-19 in its tracks.

The charity anticipates a swathe of social harms - particularly for Māori - if the economic impacts of coronavirus on New Zealand's most vulnerable goes unchecked.

It says the challenges brought upon by COVID-19 will go "far beyond the capability of the present social welfare system", and the Government needs to establish a sustainable economy that allows "all New Zealanders [to have] greater wellbeing".

Data published in the Salvation Army's third COVID-19 dashboard report shows the charity is currently handing out more than four times as many food parcels as before the crisis, while KiwiSaver withdrawals jumped 30 percent in March from the previous month. 

The data also shows a major surge in calls to FinCap's Money Talks helpline just after New Zealand went into lockdown, with five times more people calling than in the weeks leading up.

But the charity is now questioning whether this current state is "the calm before the storm", and speculates things could get much worse for Kiwis already doing it tough.

"Over the next 18 months, a refreshed New Zealand economy and social environment must be conceived. The 2020 Budget needs to make Government financing available for this task," it said in a statement to media. 

The Salvation Army has identified five areas which will need investment in the new social and economic order. These are as follows:

A rigorous system of food security

"In a country whose primary export is food, there is no excuse for any New Zealander to be short of food.

"Systems must be built that ensure every New Zealander has easy access to the food they require to keep healthy."

An income guarantee for everyone

"Everyone contributing in some way to our economic and social wellbeing must be at the centre of the new economy.

"People must still be allowed to get richer, but systems to ensure no one is in poverty must be robust and well developed."

Stronger and more strategic credit and debt regulation

"That COVID-19 will increase levels of debt is inevitable. However, [we] should provide hope for a step into the future and not crippling strangulation on future wellbeing.

"The Salvation Army calls for stronger and more strategic credit and debt regulation in line with the COVID-19 protections for consumers implemented in the UK. The current approach is like throwing cups of water on a house fire.

"Additionally, Budget 2020 must have significant, long-term new investment in the Building Financial Capability sector to support budgeting services and financial mentors who will be on the frontline serving those in debt, unemployment and financial hardship."

New Zealand's most significant allocation ever to housing

"The Salvation Army believes the Government needs to make the most significant allocation ever to housing in New Zealand’s history; a multi-billion dollar allocation.

"Advice on priorities for spending should come from an expert group representing the best brains in housing. Because of the opportunities post COVID-19 recovery presents, New Zealand can be the best-housed nation in the world."

Funding for alcohol and drug services

"With issues of mental health and addiction likely increasing in post-COVID New Zealand, a significant multi-million dollar funding for alcohol and other drug services is required. 

"Funding [should be] targeted at the development of telehealth services, embedding mental health into addiction services so that addiction and mental health groups can adequately face the current and emerging alcohol and drug issues."

The Salvation Army says New Zealand needs to harness the coronavirus crisis to build a country "more financially robust and inclusive than we have previously known". 

"To do this will require Budget resources from the Government at a level not previously seen, it says. "New Zealand must have a new sustainable economy that includes all New Zealanders having greater wellbeing."