Select Committee on Health First Report

Supplementary Memorandum by the Department of Social Welfare, New Zealand Government

Welfare of Former Child Migrants:

Follow-up with NZ High Commissioner, London (CM 180B)
1. You have advised that our High Commissioner in London will shortly be meeting with David Hinchliffe, Chairman of the UK Health Committee, following their recent visit to New Zealand pursuing their Inquiry into the Welfare of Former Child Migrants.

2. At this meeting the Department would appreciate the High Commissioner reiterating several points made to the Committee when it met with officials. It would also be constructive to use this opportunity to provide some additional material relating to matters raised by the Committee. We trust these notes will assist in this regard. In addition, information requested by the Committee on the effect of overseas travel on benefit eligibility is appended.

Provision of information to the Committee during its visit

3. Discussion of the administration of the care of the children after arrival in NZ was limited. While we appreciate that the Committee may have found this somewhat frustrating, it is important to note that the Chair of the Committee was advised prior to departure that such discussion would be significantly constrained by the legal proceedings which the Crown is defending.

Role of the British Government

4. On several occasions during their visit members of the Committee mentioned they were not clear on the role played by the British Government in New Zealand's Child Migration Scheme. Members of the Committee expressed the view at meetings that the British Government's role was a "passive" one whereas New Zealand's role was "proactive". The Department has recently examined the original Department of Labour files related to the establishment of the Child Migration Scheme.

5. The NZ Government did play a proactive role in developing the Scheme. However, file material shows that the British Home Office and Commonwealth Relations Office were consulted and they gave their approval in principle to the scheme.

6. The following extracts from a telegram from the NZ High Commissioner, London to the Minister of External Affairs, Wellington, 26 March 1948, shed light on various parties' involvement. (This was in response to a telegram of 10 March 1948 from the Minister of External Affairs requesting that the High Commissioner "discuss whole question fully with Home Office view to securing agreement in principle to introduction of a scheme of child migration . . ."):

  "Child Migration scheme discussed with Home Office and Commonwealth Relations Office who are in agreement in principle although not prepared to take any active part in the scheme."

  "Scheme discussed with Major Bavin, Over-Seas League, who guarantees to find suitable children under guardianship scheme at the rate of 20 per month up to a total of 400 children."

  "Home Office considers Overseas League competent to undertake preliminary selection but that final selection and administration should be handled by this Office."

7. A press statement made by the NZ Minister of Immigration in early April 1949, notes that there was a "Selection Committee, on which the New Zealand and United Kingdom Governments and the Over-Seas League are represented" and that this was "to proceed with the final selection." [NB: this is inconsistent with the content of the telegram discussed above, but consistent with the Over-Seas League material below.] In addition, reports were sought on the children from the Children's Officers of the various County Councils.

Role of the Over-Seas League

8. It would also be valuable to provide supplementary information about the role of the Over-Seas League to contribute to an historically accurate picture of the New Zealand scheme. While the League has informed the UK Health Committee that the League "acted solely as a recruitment agency" NZ file sources show that this is only a partial description of the League's role.

9. The League initially proposed the scheme to the NZ High Commissioner in London in early 1947. In New Zealand there had been interest in a scheme for orphaned children, but few were available. The following information was extracted from file sources:

  The Over-Seas League (Cyril Bavin) wrote to the NZ High Commissioner in London (2 January 1947): "Submitting to you officially our proposals with regard to the Migration of children to New Zealand." The League proposed "That we inaugurate a scheme for the migration to New Zealand of children between the ages of 8 and 15 years . . ." The High Commissioner's support was sought in putting the proposal to the NZ Government. The proposal was forwarded to the NZ Prime Minister, and then to the Director of the National Employment Service for comment. Subsequent to this there was correspondence on the proposal in Britain (between the League and the NZ High Commission in London), and in New Zealand (between the League and the Director of Employment).

  A press statement made by the NZ Secretary of Labour and Director of Employment in 1948 notes "The Scheme was originally suggested by the Over-Seas League".

  A document describing the scheme, prepared by the NZ head of the League and sent to the NZ Director of Employment in 1949 states: "Applications and preliminary selection are in the hands of the World HQ of the Over-Seas League, London. These are co-ordinated by our Hon Migration Secretary, Mr Cyril Bavin OBE... The applications are then passed on to New Zealand House for verification, whilst final selection made by a Committee on which is represented the British Government, the New Zealand Government and the Over-Seas League."

"Unique" aspect of the New Zealand Child Migration Scheme

10. Committee members emphasised at their meetings that they considered New Zealand's Child Migration Scheme to be unique in that the child migrants were placed under the guardianship of state authorities.

11. To our knowledge the NZ scheme was not in fact unique in this respect. For example, although child migrants to Australia were in the care of various institutions and charitable organisations, the Department understands they were actually under the guardianship of state immigration authorities, in accordance with the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946.

Access to information

12. The Committee Chair mentioned concerns expressed by FCMs to the Committee in relation to access to information and questioning of "Why did it happen?".

13. Information about the initiation of the Child Migration Scheme is held on Department of Labour and Employment files in New Zealand's National Archives. It was from these files that the material referred to earlier was obtained. There is no restriction on access to these files. Some of this information was also held on this Department's files and has been made available to a number of the FCMs with whom the Department has had contact.

14. Issues of access by FCMs to personal file information now held by the Department of Social Welfare were also raised. It would be useful to again emphasise that the Department has, since matters related to the Child Migration Scheme were first raised, provided information to FCMs in a supportive manner, and it continues to do so. As an affiliated bureau of International Social Service the Department can also access additional tracing resources.

The elderly woman who came under an Empire Settlement Act scheme

15. One case was mentioned by the Committee at all their meetings—that of a woman, now aged over 80, who had come to NZ as a four year old. She had only recently learnt how she came to be in NZ and that she actually had a family in Britain. Her story attracted a reasonable level of media attention.

16. While the Committee is probably aware of this, it would be useful to reinforce that she would have come to NZ under a scheme operated by the Salvation Army (in the UK and NZ), under the Empire Settlement Act 1922 (UK). Some 2,259 juveniles came to NZ between 1924-31 under Empire Settlement Act schemes. She would also be the first person to have come under this scheme who has come to the attention of government organisations working with issues related to FCMs in recent times.

17. The focus has been on the operation of the Child Migration Scheme (1949-53), and it has been FCMs who came under this scheme who have sought a response from the NZ Government to their grievances. To the Department's knowledge, the British Child Migrant Society (NZ) Inc has not raised issues related to individuals who came under Empire Settlement Act schemes. The Department believes there would be relatively few such migrants still living.

Cessation of benefit payments while recipient is overseas

18. During its meeting with officials, the Committee also sought information about New Zealand's social security system with respect to the cessation of benefit payments when the beneficiary is overseas. The cessation of benefit payments where the beneficiary has been absent longer than 28 days was cited to the Committee by former child migrants as restricting their ability to make extended trips to be reunited with family members.

19. This information is appended, for the Committee Chair.

20. Thank you for your assistance in this matter and we look forward to learning of progress on the Committee's inquiry.Faith Denny, Manager
Government Social Services
Social Services Policy Group

3 July 1998

Benefit entitlement and overseas travel

1. The provisions relating to the effect of the absence of a superannuitant or beneficiary from New Zealand on their eligibility for a benefit or NZ superannuation (NZS) are contained is section 77 of the Social Security Act 1964 and sections 17, 17A, and 18 of the Social Welfare (Transitional Provisions) Act 1990. In effect there are two different regimes. The first applies to (NZS) and the Veteran's Pension, while the second applies to all other benefits.

2. With respect to the situation of FCMs travelling to the United Kingdom, it is expected the relevant forms of support would largely be NZS and the transitional retirement benefit.

3. NZS is currently available at age 63 years and six months. The age of eligibility increases by three months for every six calendar months that go by, until it reaches 65 years on 1 April 2001.

4. The transitional retirement benefit (TRB) is an income tested benefit intended to recognise the circumstances of people who were approaching age 60 when the increase in the age of eligibility for NZS was announced. The age of eligibility for the TRB is currently 62 years and is increasing by three months for every six calendar months until the age of 64 years and nine months is reached in 2003. The rate of payment is higher than the unemployment benefit, and is equivalent to the invalid's benefit rate.

New Zealand Superannuation and the Veteran's Pension

5. The provisions of the NZS and the Veteran's Pension relating to absence from New Zealand are relatively generous. This reflects the fact that NZS and the Veteran's Pension are intended for a different group of recipients to work tested benefits. In particular, retired people are not expected to necessarily remain in the country to receive NZS or Veteran's Pension.

6. NZS and the Veteran's Pension are payable overseas for up to 26 weeks provided that:

  the total absence was not more than 30 weeks; or

  the Director General is satisfied that the person was kept out of the country by reasons beyond their control; or

  the Director General is satisfied that the person was overseas because their spouse or child was receiving medical treatment paid for by the New Zealand Ministry of Health.

7. Therefore the current provisions enable former child migrants to spend up to 30 weeks in succession overseas without endangering their eligibility for NZS, provided that they remain ordinarily resident in New Zealand.

8. In the case of the United Kingdom there is a bilateral agreement in place. This agreement provides for residence in New Zealand to be counted as Class III contributions in the United Kingdom for a person applying for a United Kingdom basic pension. Thus, a FCM retiring to the United Kingdom would be eligible for a United Kingdom basic pension.

Other benefits

9. The provisions for other benefits relating to absence from New Zealand are much more stringent than the provisions for NZS. This reflects the fact that income tested benefits are primarily aimed at preventing or alleviating hardship. Extensive overseas travel is not considered compatible with the requirement to be actively seeking work associated with some benefits. However, because the specific obligations vary from benefit to benefit, the criteria relating to overseas travel also vary.

10. The transitional retirement benefit and widows or domestic purposes benefits that are not work tested, are payable for up to four weeks while overseas provided that the absence would not otherwise effect eligibility for that benefit.

11. The sickness, training, unemployment, independent youth, and emergency benefit, along with work tested widows or domestic purposes benefits, are payable overseas for up to four weeks if the beneficiary is required to be overseas for humanitarian reasons.

12. The invalid's benefit is payable for up to six weeks while overseas provided that the absence would not otherwise affect eligibility for that benefit.

13. A benefit may be payable overseas for a period of up to two years if the Director General is satisfied that:

(a)  the beneficiary, their spouse, sibling, or dependent child is receiving medical attention overseas for which the Ministry of Health is providing assistance;

(b)  the beneficiary is receiving vocational or guide dog training, but only if:  (i) he or she is in receipt of the invalid's benefit due to blindness; and

  (ii) the Director General is satisfied that the person could not obtain the training in New Zealand during the period of absence.

14. In summary, most recipients of income tested benefits would lose their benefit eligibility after 4 weeks of absence from New Zealand. However, the current legislation provides for an absence from New Zealand of up to four weeks for humanitarian reasons in the case of beneficiaries who would otherwise not be able to leave New Zealand at all and maintain their benefit eligibility.

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Prepared 10 August 1998