Better results not ideological obsessions

A new funding system for people with disabilities was the subject of this exchange at question time yesterday:

CARMEL SEPULONI (Labour—Kelston) to the Minister of Finance: Is the Productivity Commission report released yesterday indicative of a Government agenda to privatise the welfare system?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): No. It is indicative of a Government agenda to get better results for people who really need them. We are happy to debate the kind of toolset that the Productivity Commission has laid out, but I would like to signal to that member and to the Labour Party that we are focused more on getting better results and less on their ideological obsessions. What we are doing is building a system that allows Governments to invest upfront in personalised interventions for the child, the individual, or the family for a long-term impact, and to track the results of that investment. The Productivity Commission has produced a framework that gives the Government a wider range of tools. It has been heavily consulted on with the social service sector to a draft form, and now it will be further consulted on before it gives us a final report. But I expect at the end of that that the Labour Party will be out of step with pretty much everybody by sticking to its 1970s models.

Carmel Sepuloni: Does the Minister intend to establish a voucher system for social services in New Zealand?29 Apr 2015 Oral Questions Page 11 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes. We are under way in establishing a voucher system particularly for people with disabilities. It is called Enabling Good Lives. It has been broadly welcomed by the disability sector. I suspect that the mass adoption of it by the Australian Government in the form of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is going to put a lot of pressure on New Zealand to further develop a sophisticated voucher system for people with disabilities. The reason why is that it gives them some choices rather than being subject to a system where the Labour Party tells the providers—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Jami-Lee Ross: What progress has the Government made in delivering better outcomes from social services?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have made considerable progress in focusing on our customers—that is, getting to know much better the circumstances and prospects of those most vulnerable New Zealanders. For instance, a child under the age of 5 who is known to Child, Youth and Family, whose parents are supported by a benefit, and where either parent is in contact with the Department of Corrections—and there are a lot of those families; around 470 of them in Rotorua, for instance—is around five times more likely to end up on a long-term benefit and seven times more likely than the average to get to be in prison before the age of 21. In the light of that information, we feel a moral obligation, as well as a fiscal one, to act now to reduce the long-term costs, and we are not—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Carmel Sepuloni: Does he agree with the findings of the draft Productivity Commission’s report he commissioned that the Government faces incentives to underfund contracts with NGOs for the delivery of social services, with probably adverse consequences for service provision; if so, does he agree that greater contracting out could harm service provision?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I agree with the first one but not the second one. The Government often does deliberately, as a result of Government policy, actually, pay less than the full cost of services, and often the users of those services need a higher level of more sophisticated service that what we currently offer them. There is no evidence at all that contracting out, as the member calls it, will reduce service provision. Sometimes that is the right way to do it. For instance, the Government owns no elderly care beds in New Zealand. It is all contracted out. That has been a bipartisan approach for many years with a highly vulnerable population. There are other areas where there are benefits from competition and also benefits from cooperation.

Jami-Lee Ross: What results has he seen from investment in Better Public Services?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: One of the first results we are seeing from taking an investment approach to public services is a much better understanding of our customers. The reports, now published 6-monthly, into the welfare liability have lifted the lid on a very complex ecosystem of dependency. Now we are starting to take initiatives in order to change the way that system works. For instance, around 70 percent of the people who sign up for a benefit in any given month have been on a benefit before. They are long-term regular and returning customers. In the past we have thought that because we found them a job once, that was the end of it. In fact, they need sustained support and employment, and we expect to be taking more measures in order to back up that initiative. But there will be hundreds of others that will involve contracting out, will involve competition, will involve the private sector, and will involve better results. . .

Carmel Sepuloni: Does he agree with the finding of the report, which he commissioned, that “Problems with contracting out are often symptoms of deeper causes such as the desire to exert top-down control to limit political risk.”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes.

Carmel Sepuloni: Does he agree that the Government needs to take responsibility for system stewardship and for making considered decisions that shape the system, including taking the overarching responsibility for monitoring, planning, and managing resources in such a way as to maintain and improve system performance?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, the Government can do a better job of what the Government does. We are still unravelling the damage done by the previous Labour Government to our social services delivery, where that Government turned it into what I would call a dumb funding system. Communities and families have an important role as well as Governments—in fact, a more important role. In fact, one of the programmes that the commission refers to is Whānau Ora, which is designed around the radical proposition that a lot of our most dysfunctional families can actually heal some of their own problems and improve some of their own aspirations. . .

This exchange shows a stark difference between National and Labour.

National is determined to improve the delivery of social services, give people with disabilities more choices and reduce dependence.

Labour which is still ideologically opposed to private provision of services even if that gives better results.

And it’s not just Labour which has the wrong idea of welfare and the government’s role in services.

Lindsay Mitchell writes on Green MP Jan Logie’s contention that social problems aren’t solved one individual at a time:

If problems aren’t solved “one individual at a time”, when it is individuals who abuse or neglect each other, when it is individuals who successfully resolve to change their behaviour, what hope? And why have role models eg Norm Hewitt to show what individuals can achieve? Why have organisations like AA who focus on each individual owning and addressing their problem; in living one day at a time to break their addiction?

Logie believes in deterministic explanations for human behaviour. Causes are outside of the control of the individual. For instance, colonisation and capitalism cause social chaos to entire groups. Therefore the largest representative collective – government – must play the major remedial role.

And she has the gall to talk about private service providers securing an “ongoing need for [their] services”.

When for the past forty odd years  government policy has been creating and increasing social problems through the welfare state.

This reinforces this morning’s quote from Thomas Sowell: Although the big word on the left is ‘compassion,’ the big agenda on the left is dependency.

12 Responses to Better results not ideological obsessions

  1. Dave Kennedy says:

    “When for the past forty odd years government policy has been creating and increasing social problems through the welfare state.”

    There is ample evidence to show that low wages, unemployment and cutting welfare support causes a larger proportion of harm than welfare itself.

    I recently met a couple who have a dilemma because the wife is suffering from a serious health issue due to medical misadventure and yet they can’t get any support while the husband is working. He iss working part time to support his wife’s health needs but can’t earn enough for them to live on, the only way to improve their income is for him to give up work completely. Although they will earn a little more, he will become a job seeker and pressure will be placed on him to find work and the cycle will continue. Such is the inflexibility of the current system, it is supposed to help those in genuine need but often fails.

  2. Andrei says:

    I recently met a couple who have a dilemma because the wife is suffering from a serious health issue due to medical misadventure and yet they can’t get any support while the husband is working.

    An anecdote Dave Kennedy and an incomplete one at that which does not allow the hearer to fully judge the circumstances of the case

    But into every life some rain must fall and looking to central Government to get us through the tough times is never going to be the optimum

    Family, that is parents, siblings and most of all offspring are those to whom we should turn and our local community, neighbours, Church and so forth.

    With these people needs can be addressed tailered as much as is feasible to the circumstance, rather than via a bureacratic book of inflexible rules.

    In my grandparents time superannuation wasn’t money you put into a managed scheme – it was your children.

    Mind you my grandparents didn’t live long enough to need superannuation, a great convulsion in human events saw them off, in my maternal Grandfathers case there wasn’t even a body to bury

  3. Gravedodger says:

    DaveK I would have thought a glimmer of the problems arising from unintended consequences meme might have entered your conscious and it may well have but your political mantras keep it suppressed from being admitted.
    The bare facts you allude to in your anecdote are indeed sad as presented but you hinted at solutions that might alleviate the immediate suffering, well they might but then just like “topsy”, they will grow.
    However as the well intentioned and welcomed social solutions that emanated from the Savage government quickly became an opportunity for feckless individuals who saw no shame in being without work and paid a benefit from other hard working taxpayers any solution such as you advance will quickly become just another opportunity for people with no connection to the sad circumstances you outline or anything similar, taking advantage.
    You should see how self policing church and secular charities were in that the donors and the recipients were l known to each other and the tighter social fabric ensured that that poor family received needed assistance and the help was targeted. Not every set back in life can be overcome by the state gifting cash without some oversight.
    Under the largesse of the current behemoth that welfare has become we not only have to deal with unscrupulous claimants taking advantage to support their personal choices we have incidents where the distributors of the states charity, being well remunerated for so doing, are putting their hands in the till for the simple reason it is “nobody’s money” for gambling and living beyond their means.
    Eventually what Baroness Thatcher predicted will come to pass and the money will not be in the till for either party to purloin.

  4. Ray says:

    He iss working part time to support his wife’s health needs but can’t earn enough for them to live on, the only way to improve their income is for him to give up work completely.

    Your endless parade of “I recently met a couple” anecdotes stretch your credibility, Mr Kennedy.
    Why focus only on “improving their income”?
    Have all other lifestyle options been exhausted?
    However he is certainly not alone in choosing this type of career move!

  5. TraceyS says:

    “…the only way to improve their income is for him to give up work completely. Although they will earn a little more, he will become a job seeker and pressure will be placed on him to find work and the cycle will continue.”

    The positives, I think, are that 1) they will have enough money to live on and 2) that he will be able to look after his wife full-time.

    Isn’t it good that we have a system which provides these choices?

    Also they might receive some compensation for medical misadventure.

  6. Ray says:

    Although they will earn a little more

    This is typical of socialist thinking.
    They will not “earn” anything.

  7. TraceyS says:

    The situation described by Dave is, on the basis of the information provided, not unlike one that has occurred within my family (minus the medical misadventure as the cause of health problems).

    They are really happy being able to spend the extra time together. They live a modest (but happy) lifestyle but have managed to save money as well and are now being supported with home help paid for by the government. From where I stand, the system is pretty generous. But that depends lot on your expectations.

    My family’s expectations are so modest that I’ve had to encourage them to ask for what they’re entitled to. Generosity, i guess, is in the eye of the beholder.

  8. Dave Kennedy says:

    I think the real crux of the issue is the perceived extent of welfare fraud and ‘bludging’. 95% of us who are able to work are doing so and when you remove those who are have genuine reasons for not working the percentage of those abusing the system are actually very few. Tax fraud is a massively bigger problem than welfare fraud and some things labelled benefit fraud are actually over-payments in error and are actually not the beneficiaries fault.

    http://www.3news.co.nz/politics/courts-tougher-on-benefit-fraud-than-tax-dodging–study-2012102118#axzz3YxzvIaX6

    I think that in an effort to make it difficult for some people to abuse the support systems we have made it more difficult for those in genuine need to get support.

    In response to Ray’s concern about my use of ‘earn’, surely you don’t believe that someone caring for an ill or disabled family member (that means removing themselves from the paid workforce) doesn’t mean that their voluntary work doesn’t have value? Even full-time parenting should be considered valuable work as it was in the past.

    When 25% of children are living in relative poverty we must have a real problem in getting support to where it is needed the most and also damaging or future: http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/9492016/One-in-four-Kiwi-children-living-in-poverty

    The real drain on our economy is superannuation that will increase in cost from $9 billion a year to $20 billion in just over a decade. Only 5% of our elderly suffer from poverty.

  9. TraceyS says:

    “…the real crux of the issue is the perceived extent of welfare fraud…”

    Dave, do you seriously think that the crux of the issue is perception?

    It isn’t. Reality is. What solutions do you have for the reality of poverty?

    In case you don’t answer, here is one from the Green Policy book:

    “Promote the target of half of New Zealand’s production becoming certified organic by 2025, with the remainder in the process of conversion…”

    Make food more expensive…yeah that will do it!

    Honestly Dave, what planet are you on?

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