Budget cuts impact migrant and refugee communities

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 29 May 2017

New migrants have been at the heart of New Zealand’s economic growth in the past few years, but have also caused pressure on infrastructure and social services. With a net migration of 71,400, in the past year, Auckland alone has seen a net gain of around 700 migrants a week (57,710 arriving, 21,938 leaving). There’s been discussion already about the impact of immigration on housing and infrastructure but with immigration at record levels, did the budget address these areas?

The answer seems to be no. Budget 2017 saw cuts in funding directly relating to their needs as well as members of our former refugee communities. Funding for advisory services for ethnic communities seems to have been cut from $6.5m to $5m.

Three representatives from our ethnic communities to get to the heart of the matter, starting with identifying where the cuts are and how these may hurt.

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“There is a cut; definitely in that refugee and new migrant services area. There’ll be many areas that will be struggling to keep up because the increases are not sufficient to match increase in population.” Ganesh Nana, Chief Economist, BERL.

Panel participants (left to right) Moses Ariama, Tayo Agunlejika, Ganesh Nana, RNZ Lynda Chanwai-Earle.

Panel participants (left to right) Moses Ariama, Tayo Agunlejika, Ganesh Nana, RNZ Lynda Chanwai-Earle. Photo: RNZ Jason McClelland

Ganesh Nana describes himself as a first generation New Zealander – a born and bred Wellingtonian of Indian ethnicity whose parents migrated here during the 1950’s. He’s also the Chief Economist at BERL (Business and Economics Research Limited).

Ganesh says the overall budget was not focused on new migrants or former-refugee communities. “The budget was focused on delivering taxes back to New Zealanders, in particular, back to working New Zealanders with families. In terms of new migrants and refugees as long as they’ve got a job, they may benefit.”

But what if these communities are struggling with employment?

“It looks like they have dropped off the table. It doesn’t send the signal that we want migrants ready and able to settle in New Zealand and contribute constructively. It’s those other services in terms of resettlement; they need to be funded as well. If you haven’t got those skills then you’re not employable.”

Tayo Agunlejika is a Nigerian born New Zealander and currently the Executive Director of Multicultural New Zealand (NZ Federation of Multicultural Councils). He has significant experience in community development.

“I think it’s more of a political budget. It looks at corporate businesses, how to use migration to support economic growth but nothing in the social area. Migrants contribute three billion per year to New Zealand’s economy.” Tayo Agunlejika, Multicultural New Zealand

“For the past seven years they (the National Government) have focused on economic growth, with increased GDP, but in the other part of the equilibrium we have pressure. There’s increased in inequity.”

Statistics New Zealand backs up this claim; gender pay inequity is exacerbated for women from ethnic communities. Currently if you’re a woman of colour in New Zealand, you get paid around 30% less than a Pakeha man.

“Migrants have missed out. Yes there is money allocated to those working, but you need a job.”

Moses Ariama is the founder of Pride Lands Childcare Services and an entrepreneur who migrated from Ghana to New Zealand in 2004. 

“Some say New Zealand is a welfare state; from what the budget has indicated there will be a lot more families going (on) welfare, refugees and migrants, if they don’t have a job. What’s the point in inviting refugees and migrants to the country, only to put them on welfare?

“My expertise is in childcare – many of these (migrants) will feel the impact through their children’s eyes.”

What about former-refugee communities?

John Key famously said that our care of refugees is “outstanding”. New Zealand’s refugee quota will increase from 750 to 1000 next year but is there money in this budget to cope with that? Will the cuts affect their resettlement?

Tayo, who hears from these communities every day, says yes. Some groups working in this sector are struggling for funding, having to lay off staff or fundraise themselves.

Some smaller community groups have already been struggling for funding under National’s new Social Investment model. The Canterbury Migrant Centre announced last week that it will close, not because of the cuts in this budget, but because of those wider funding problems. Tayo says such groups will have to look elsewhere for money.

“It will come down to local government, NGO’s. Previous funding has been centralised, funding will now be project based, and it’s tokenistic.”

Is this new formula sustainable?

Ganesh says no. “It’s the government abdicating its responsibility and hoping somebody else will pick up the tab. So you’ve got volunteers or local councils, rate payers or NGO’s picking up the tab.”

“The important message is to change the narrative around migrants. They are not a cost, they are not a burden. They’re not causing the housing problems, infrastructure problems. Migrants have contributed and will continue to contribute – if we are going to maximise that contribution, we need to make sure those services are readily available and well-funded.” Ganesh Nana, Chief Economist, BERL

Tayo agrees. “Going forward I want to seeing funding that is sustainable. We are not a liability. A lot of migrants are looking for work. They want to contribute; they feel ashamed if they’re looking for work. Don’t let us forget the secondary migrant.”