Migrants struggling after funding cut from language services
March 15, 2019
Wellington’s Citizens Advice Bureau is one of many struggling to cope with the fallout after its Migrant Language Connect service lost government funding in December 2018.
The service provided migrants and non-English speakers with a way to access information and advice about housing, the New Zealand health system, employment services, and legal help.
National manager of settlement and immigration Judi Altinkaya said the decision was made to redirect the funding to the Hamilton Multicultural Services Trust.
“The panel considered each proposal very carefully and chose the best option against the criteria given.”
The trust provides a new language service called InfoNow, but local bureau managers and volunteers say the service doesn’t provide the face-to-face help clients need.
Citizens Advice Bureau CEO Kerry Dalton said branches were affected nationwide.
“This is happening across the country. We’re being contacted by people who don’t know where to go now.”
“The biggest concern for us is the clients being left without the help they need. These people are vulnerable, we need to be dealing with them in depth.”
Language Connect delivered full bureau services in 17 languages, while InfoNow offers only 11 instead of the 50 promised.
Wellington branch manager Audrey Fell-Smith said this meant new migrants to the city were struggling.
“For example, we had a client who spoke Cantonese and no staff who could speak Cantonese. The client was sent in by an agency assuming we would be able to help them.”
Fell-Smith said it managed to find a Cantonese speaker able to come in the next day to help, but then had to explain that to the client using pictures and hand gestures.“It’s like playing charades.”
Fell-Smith said helping clients had been made much more difficult and time-consuming.
“We’re devastated actually. Sometimes InfoNow even refers people back to the bureau, and it becomes a loop.”
Volunteer at the Wellington City and Newtown branches Jane Julian said increasing numbers of people came in who had little or no English.
“It’s particularly hard for non-working spouses, it isn’t a requirement for them to have any English to come into the country.”
Julian said Language Connect addressed the subtleties of each client’s needs.
Now that it no longer existed, more responsibility was being placed on the shoulders of volunteers. “We’re being asked increasingly to take up inquiries for government departments.”
Bureau Language Link manager Teresa Marinovich said the Language Connect office averaged 14,000 inquiries a year.
“We know that clients who are unable to express their needs in English are going to bureaus, who no longer have the Language Connect staff to help them understand the client and explain options to them.”
Marinovich said Language Connect provided in-depth advice to clients along with expertise and cultural knowledge that went beyond simply interpreting.
“While Info Now may be providing aspects of all of these, the feedback to us is that it is not to the extent and level of the Language Connect service.”
The trust did not respond to queries about the Info Now service.