Community organisations left running on empty: Hui E! Community Aotearoa on Budget 2024

Katie Bruce, Kaiwhakahaere Matua, Hui E! Community Aotearoa

It might not be the largest numbers in the budget that will have the biggest impact.

The tangata whenua, community and voluntary sector, the invisible web that hold communities together, are facing a wave of cuts across many Budget portfolios.

Hui E! Hauora research in 2023 highlighted the underfunding, severe and unmet whānau and community needs, coupled with burnout, facing the community sector. This Budget leaves them running on empty.

Funds that communities have been able to access in the wake of COVID-19 and climate emergency events have fallen off a cliff, such as the end of the $35 million cultural sector COVID-19 funding and a $30 million decrease in funding for Community Connection services, despite organisations reporting high levels of continued need.

Less visible are the ripples out to small organisations and groups that will be competing for reduced funding at the same time as facing this increased need. Community sport programmes, community-led development, budgeting services and community-based justice services are some of those affected. The Māori Development Fund has been cut by more than half and across Community Support Services the non-renewal of contracts expiring in June this year foreshadows further cuts.

Cuts to the public sector mean reductions in roles and capacity to engage with the tangata whenua, community and voluntary sector, and the inclusion of community voice in decision-making. Also notable is reduced funding to lift procurement capability across the public sector. Complex application and monitoring processes have been long-term barriers for community organisations.

More promising are increases in funding for disability support services in a context of long-term underfunding and a community sector innovation fund for mental health and addiction services.

The Social Investment Fund, which will come out of a tagged $51 million funding pot to accelerate social investment, will be a litmus test for the Government. Bringing the community sector to the table would ensure this approach, including its impact measures, are informed by what works on the ground and the social infrastructure needed to support communities to thrive in the long-term.

Every week the public sector job cut tracker rises, keeping us all up to date. We must do the same to make visible the effects on the tangata whenua, community and voluntary sector that will be felt deeply, with jobs and organisations on the line. This sector are the first responders for individuals and whānau seeking tautoko and assistance, and play a vital role in creating resilient, connected, and inclusive communities.