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Time to care for our carers - Maori Council proposes new tax changes for vulnerable whanau

Maori Council calls for a vulnerable whanau and families support package – it’s time to recognise the contribution of our elders in the care and protection of our children

When it comes to the care and protection of our children the harsh reality is that our elders are the ones providing care. We need to recognise the contribution they make and we need to do something about it.” Was the statement made by Maori Council Executive Director, Matthew Tukaki, at a conference in Wellington on the 9th of April about the state of Maori affairs.

“The New Zealand Maori Council estimates that there are more than 50,000 such carers across the nation who, unpaid, provide a system of care that is not monetarily valued by the State but is often accessed and used as part of the child care and protection system. If you were to take a standard working week for a carer and calculate it at 38.5 hours work at $20 per hour the net annual cost of providing that care would amount to $40,040.00 per annum. We estimate more than $2 billion in voluntary forms of care is provided by elderly New Zealanders each year proving a significant cost saving to the tax payer and Agencies. Yet, little of this service is recognised -instead we continue to turn to these people for additional care in some of the most complex and complicated of situations.” Tukaki said

“And by carers we mean not just Maori but non-Maori as well. When we look at the child care and protection system in New Zealand the stand out figure has to be the number of children who are in the care of extended whanau and, in particular, our elders. Increasingly more of our elders are taking on the task of caring and looking after their grandchildren as their own children face challenges from mental health issues, incarceration and high levels of addiction to drugs and alcohol. Many of these elders are meant to be enjoying their later years of retirement but instead a thrust into bringing up children all over again – and this time with the added pressure and stress of finances and cashflow. Even for those who are still working the challenge of putting kai on the table, providing clothing, the basic tools to attend school such as uniforms and stationary can be a burden. And while many press ahead they do so by using what little resources they have and with very little in the way of additional support. Even for those who are caring for mokopuna who are not part of the stationary system the financial stress and pressure can be too much.” Tukaki said

“That is why the New Zealand Maori Council believes that one of the circuit breakers we need to look at as a Government is about providing additional taxation relief and exemptions to our carers over the age of 55. We have called it the vulnerable whanau and family tax exemption and support package that would be applicable to all New Zealanders both Maori and non-Maori. This includes additional tax exemptions for working grandparents per school aged child (Per annum) of $200 for school uniforms and stationary (or related supplementary allowance), a further energy supplement of $150 per household per annum and a supplementary allowance of $500 per annum to assist with kai. The total package would cost on average $850 per annum and could be administered by the Ministry of Social Development as a series of additional supplementary allowances or additional deductions at tax time across those categories. In addition we feel that there needs to be a review of carer allowances for those in retirement to supplement national superannuation to bring it in line with the relative cost of living.” Tukaki said

“The estimated cost of the amounts described would average $34 million per annum but the return on investment could potentially be measured around the reduction of children re-entering State care and therefore the cost savings that could be achieved. Other return on investment models could also be applied. Of course, the exemption could apply to those under the age of 55 as well with additional modelling to be done.” Tukaki said

The Maori Council has requested a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and the Minister for Children to progress the business case for the new tax category.

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