The spousing crisis

July 7, 2016

Behind the humour is the sorry truth of an unfortunate aspect of modern life:

The spousing crisis is leading to homelessness and child poverty.

Rental spouses are just too expensive.They are insecure and impermanent. You could get kicked out at any time and have to go looking for another. Some spouses have become P-contaminated and put children at risk. But there simply aren’t enough solid, life-time spouses available, so more and more people are being forced into the rental spouse market. . . 

Read the rest at Lindsay Mitchell.


State poor substitute for families

May 31, 2016

When I read that New Zealand marriage rates continue to decline I wondered if that had any influence on poverty and housing shortages.

A report from Family First authored by Lindsay Mitchel  says it does.

The executive summary says:

Despite families being much smaller, parents being older, mothers being better educated and having much higher employment rates, child poverty has risen significantly since the 1960s.

In 1961, 95 percent of children were born to married couples; by 2015 the proportion had fallen to 53 percent.

For Maori, 72 percent of births were to married parents in 1968; by 2015 the proportion had fallen to just 21 percent.

In 2015, 27 percent of registered births were to cohabiting parents. The risk of parental separation by the time the child is aged five is, however, 4-6 times greater than for married parents.

Cohabiting relationships are becoming less stable over time.

Cohabiting parents are financially poorer than married parents. They form an interim group between married and single parent families.

Single parent families make up 28 percent of all families with dependent children. These families are the poorest in New Zealand.

51% of children in poverty live in single parent families.

Single parents have the lowest home ownership rates and the highest debt ratios.

Children in sole parent families are often exposed to persistent poverty and constrained upward mobility.

Of registered births in 2015, 5% had no recorded father details and a further 15% had fathers living at a different home address to the mother.

Of all babies born in 2015, 17.5% (10,697) were reliant on a main benefit by the end of their birth year, over two thirds on a single parent benefit. Over half had Maori parents/caregivers.

The higher poverty rates for Maori and Pasifika children are reflected in the greater number of sole parent and cohabiting families.

Rapidly changing family structure has contributed significantly to increasing income inequality.

Child poverty is consistently blamed on unemployment, low wages, high housing costs and inadequate social security benefits. Little attention has been given to family structure.

Despite marriage being the best protector against child poverty it has become politically unfashionable – some argue insensitive – to express such a view.

But if there is to be any political will to solve child poverty the issue has to be confronted.

It is no coincidence that the increase in sole parenting and the educational, financial, health and other social problems associated with it, started with the increase of benefit dependence:

While child poverty also occurs among two parent families, its severity and longevity tend to differ, primarily because two parent families generally derive their income from the market which is subject to fluctuations; single parents are more likely to derive their income from a benefit 17 which is reasonably static and not subject to market fluctuations. Ironically, while benefit income is more secure, market income is more likely to improve over time. . . 

Benefits for most people are supposed to provide temporary support until they are able to look after themselves. Most people in paid work are able to earn more through pay increases and as they gain more experience, better qualifications.

Before the Domestic Purposes Benefit, people were trapped in abusive, dysfunctional and desperately unhappy marriages.

The DPB enabled people, usually but not always mothers, to get out of those relationships and most don’t stay dependent on it for long. But it also enabled people, again usually but not always women, to have children without supportive partners- in both the emotional and financial sense.

. . . a trend towards the formation of de facto relationships began, as did the increasing incidence of un-partnered mothers keeping and raising their children alone. Separating the two patterns poses substantial difficulties but was attempted by Kaye Goodger in 1998 (see graph below). 34 Of particular interest are the lines labelled “ex-nuptial children retained by single mothers” and “ex-nuptial births with no resident father”. The number grew from a few hundred in the early 1960s to around 13,000 by 1996, representing more than half of all ex-nuptial births.  . .

It takes two people to make a baby but too often one is left to bring the child up without the help of a spouse and ex

Frequently, young un-partnered mothers fall into what MSD research describes as the “early starter” group of sole parents who, “…appeared to be particularly disadvantaged. Half of them lived in high deprivation areas with a New Zealand Deprivation Index (NZDep) rating of 9 or 10. Levels of debt to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Special Needs Grant use suggest that many struggled to cope financially.” 46

In 2005, this group accounted for 45 percent of all the children dependent on the DPB.These particular children will often be subject to the long-term deprivation associated with sole parents who are chronically or repeatedly single.47 Their mothers may view a benefit as more reliable than, and preferable to, a partner. Yet being ‘without a current partner’ has been classified as a risk factor for child vulnerability by the Growing Up in New Zealand (GUiNZ) study.48 It is also associated with other low socio-economic risk factors. . . 

But too often, adding a partner to the mix endangers the children.

At November 2011, 26,000 women receiving the DPB had included additional new-born children: 20 percent had added 1 more child; 6 percent added two; 2 percent had added 3 subsequent children and 1 percent had added four or more.49 Each percentage point equates to almost 900 mothers. Between 2006 and 2010 this amounted to an annual average of 4,190 subsequent children (or 7% of average annual total births over same period) added to a sole parent benefit. Only 610 were added to other main benefits.  . . 

In conclusion, an extended explanation of this particular pathway into sole parenthood has been provided because children who appear in the benefit system from birth – or shortly thereafter – form a particularly disadvantaged group. The rate of early child benefit-dependence through un-partnered birth appears to have been declining very slowly since the early 1990s. This coincides with general child poverty rates (see p 7). The exposure of these children to low income is prolonged because their mothers became dependent very young without educational qualifications or work experience and leaving welfare poses numerous challenges. . . 

This is why the government is  putting so much effort, and money, into working with young single parents. Helping them look after their babies, gain qualifications and get work is the best way out of poverty.

With the decline in marriage has come an increase in cohabitation. Some of these relationships lead to marriage and some last longer than some marriages, but:

In 1995, New Zealand research found:

“About 46 percent of cohabiting first unions aged 20-59 were converted into a marriage, and 44 percent were dissolved (11 percent were still intact at the time of survey). Of those that were either dissolved or converted into a marriage, over 90 percent did so in the first five years.” 61

In line with this, the Christchurch Child Development Study found that cohabitation is a foremost risk factor for breakdown of a child’s family in its first five years with 43.9 percent of de facto couples separating compared to 10.9 percent of married parents.62 Not dissimilar statistics were produced by the Jubilee Centre which analysed data from the United Kingdom Longitudinal Study63 and showed:

“For cohabiting parents, the child’s earliest years are a time of disproportionate risk, with 37 percent of couples separating by the time the child is five compared with less than 6 percent of married couples – more than a six-fold difference. By the time the child is 16, 16 percent of married couples will have separated, compared to 66 percent of cohabiting couples – a four-fold difference.” . . 

The report quotes research which shows families where the parents are in a defacto relationship are poorer than those with married parents.

In New Zealand, according to MSD, “A Household Savings Survey (HSS) carried out in 2001 revealed clear relationships between savings, in the form of net assets, and legal marital status, family size, family type, and age. The net worth of couples living in the same household varied considerably according to whether they were legally married or not. The median net worth of all married couples was $201,400 compared with $49,500 for all unmarried couples (age-standardised data are unavailable).” 73 . . .

Higher annual before tax incomes (from all sources) for married couples are evident. Larger proportions of de facto people appear in the low income groups, while in the higher income groups de facto numbers drop away quite sharply.

The income differences for New Zealand couples are not as stark as in the US. This may be, at least partially, a result of Working for Families (WFF). Income redistribution through the tax/benefit system reduces the difference between rich and poor – so to some extent, between married and unmarried couples. WFF is a substantial transfer. The New Zealand Initiative describes how “…cash benefits exceeded direct tax paid on average for each of these [lowest] five deciles.” 74

There is another important point to be made. Not only are cohabiting parents generally poorer, given their greater propensity for separation, financial resources available for children post-dissolution are also more limited. Again the risk of child poverty is heightened. . .

The report goes on to look at ethnic breakdown and the role of unemployment.

It then notes:

Just as family structure plays a significant role in the incidence and degree of child poverty, so it does in levels of inequality of income and wealth across New Zealand society. The two go hand-in-hand. In the matter of inequality, most attention is paid to unemployment, market forces, so-called “neoliberal” policies, labour market deregulation and the shortcomings of capitalism in general. In New Zealand at least, little interest has been taken in the role of family structure. The closest to acknowledging the role of family structure was a 2013 report from the NZ Institute for Economic Research (NZIER) which claimed: “The distribution of income in New Zealand and around the OECD became more unequal after the 1960s as societies became more liberal and households changed.” 102 . . 

Then it concludes:

This paper has demonstrated the clear differences between incomes in married, de facto and sole parent families with children. Though child poverty has more dimensions than income alone, the links between household finances and material deprivation are important. Yet, in the very many discussions and reports about child poverty, the elephant in the room – family structure – is constantly ignored. Unemployment, low wages, high housing costs and insufficient social security benefits are consistently blamed for child poverty yet a major culprit (if not the major culprit) is family malformation, that is, a lack of two married committed parents.

There are at least three belief systems which have heavily influenced social science thinking, which in turn influences policy-making, which in turn influences public behaviours. The direction in which these influences operate may be fluid and certainly there is something of the ‘chicken and egg’ phenomenon at work. For instance, unmarried childbirth began to rise prior to the advent of the DPB. But it accelerated rapidly in its wake.

The three relevant ideologies at work since 1961 have been feminism; socialism and moral relativism.

Feminism sought to increase the choices and freedoms of women (but may have inadvertently overlooked those of their children). The ‘feminisation of poverty’, the idea that women are the disproportionately poor gender – and not just in developing countries – is sound and has led directly to greater child poverty. Replacing reliance on a male partner with reliance on the state ‘partner’ has not enriched those mothers.

Socialism sought to equalise incomes of people through state redistribution of wealth (yet would appear to have increased child poverty). Welfare payments that were generous relative to unskilled wages have undermined the formation and maintenance of parental relationships and trapped generations of families on benefits.

Moral relativism sought to suspend moral judgments about people’s decisions and behaviours regardless of contribution to poor personal and societal outcomes, especially for children.

The political left – though the left/right divide has become less distinct in New Zealand – tends to most strongly adhere to these belief systems and resists evidence that their application is failing.

To identify marriage as beneficial for the outcomes of children necessarily criticises other forms of partnerships so, in the eyes of many, must be avoided. Offence to any group or class seems undesirable no matter how much the negative impact might be on children.

There may be a legitimate fear of discrimination among bureaucrats constrained by human rights legislation? There may be a resistance to recognising the positive economic role of marriage in a secular country? . . 

For politicians there’s a fear of expressing support for marriage because it just sounds fusty and unfashionable (excepting same-sex marriage). Accusations of ‘social engineering’ might be levelled.

Examples of the US promoting marriage through government policy could be raised as a distinctly unwelcome spectre. Many New Zealanders harbour anti-American sentiments.

It is not the intention of this paper to explore at length why marriage has fallen out of favour with most social science academics and policy-makers.

The aim has been to show that marriage provides the best economic environment for raising children. The evidence is overwhelming and incontrovertible.

The paper doesn’t go into why families with married parents have better outcomes nor show if other factors are relevant. Are there, for examples, differences in the education, employment and family support of people who choose to marry and those who don’t which could influence outcomes?

Marriage doesn’t guarantee successful outcomes for the couple and their children, nor do de facto relationships and solo parenting guarantee failure.

However, this paper shows that families with married parents are more likely to succeed than the others. They also need only one house.

The media has been full of stories of homeless people.

Among them have been the mother of eight children facing huge debts and at-risk youth engaging in sex to get somewhere to sleep.

These reports only ever tell a very small part of the story and rarely ask, let alone answer, how the people got into these dire situations and where are the children’s father or fathers and extended families.

As Martin van Beynen says:

The current weeping, wailing and gross over-simplification of the problems at the root of violence and dysfunction will not achieve anything. . .

We have tried everything and all we have created is a culture of dependence, entitlement, helplessness and irresponsibility. . . 

The state is a very poor substitute for families and many, though not all, of the examples that reach the media demonstrate what happens when people claim their rights without accepting responsibility.


Quotes of the Year

December 31, 2015

“It’s part of the foundation of everything we do. It forms the frame of our existence, both in business and our values in life. It’s very powerful. For us, it’s also about being part of a small community. We’re part of the Waitaki district but at the forefront of it all is our little Papakaio community. We all grew up and went to primary school here. I met my wife in primer one. A part of the responsibility of living in a small village is that you contribute to the village. We’ve all been involved in supporting the creation of the community centre, the tennis courts, the swimming pool, all those sorts of things.Ian Hurst.

“I’m getting the opportunity to indulge in stuff I really like for this and I do really like New Zealand’s native birds, and this project means I get to draw a whole lot of them, on a cow.

“At the moment I’m drawing one of our native birds that still exist [fantail], and then I will be drawing the ones that don’t.” – Joshua Drummond

It’s not that we don’t want Kiwis to achieve success, it’s that we don’t want them to change once they’ve achieved it. Or, as my colleague put it, they can be winners, but they shouldn’t be dicks. Heather du Plessis-Allan

  “I chose a nice tight turd and threw it as far as I could.” Adam Stevens  –  on his win in the cow pat throwing competition at the inaugural Hilux NZ Rural Games.

“This is obviously not a zero-hour contract. It could perhaps be better described as a zero-payment contract — . . “ Steven Joyce

” But I can no longer be bothered getting emotionally het up about people who take a different perpsective to mine. Unless, of course, they are socialists.” – Lindsay Mitchell

“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure. “- Oliver Sacks, professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine and author, on learning he has terminal cancer.

This is a Government that believes that what works for the community is what works for the Government’s books. So every time we keep a teenager on track to stay at school long enough to get a qualification or have one more person pulled off the track of long-term welfare dependency, we get an immediate saving, of course, and an immediate benefit for those individuals and for the community, and a long-term saving in taxpayers’ money – Bill English

“The nature of by-elections is it’s a very short period of time. We devoted a couple or three weeks, as the party does, to select the candidate Bit simpler for Winston; he just looks in the nearest mirror and selects himself.” Steven Joyce.

. . .  I’ve never disliked religion. I think it has some purpose in our evolution. I don’t have much truck with the ‘religion is the cause of most of our wars’ school of thought, because in fact that’s manifestly done by mad, manipulative and power hungry men who cloak their ambition in God. – Terry Pratchett

The most important steps the Government takes are those steps that support the confidence of businesses to invest and put more capital into their business, and to therefore, in the long run, be able to pay higher wages. The Government does not influence that directly. However, we can contribute by, for instance, showing fiscal restraint and persisting with  economic reform. This enables interest rates to stay lower for longer but enables businesses to improve their competitiveness and therefore their ability to pay higher wages. – Bill English

“Schools are not there merely to teach in the old words of reading, writing and arithmetic, but they’re there to transition young people, especially at high school, into the real world,” . . . – Canterbury University dean of law Dr Chris Gallivan

“I have built a confirmation bias so strongly into my own fabric that it’s hard to imagine a fact that could wonk me,” . . . . “At some level, the news has become a vast apparatus for continually proving me right in my pre-existing prejudices about the world.” – Jesse Armstrong

 ”You can’t leave a big pig in the middle of the road – it’s a bit dangerous.” An unnamed Dunedin woman whose close encounter with a pig she tried to rescue left her nursing bruises.

“Politics is not entertainment,” he says. “That’s a mistake of people who are acute followers of politics as commentators or people from within the Westminster village.

“For the voters it’s not entertainment, it’s a serious issue, it’s a serious thing that means a great deal to their lives. It is their future.” – Lynton Crosby.

. . . outside politicised bubbles, most do not think in terms of “left” and “right”. Outside the political world, most think in terms of issues to be addressed in a way that is convincing, coherent, and communicated in a language that people understand. Statistics and facts won’t win the support of millions; we’re human beings, we think in terms of empathy. Stories are more persuasive, because they speak to us emotionally. . . – Owen Jones

In the animal world there’s a miracle every day, it’s the same with humans if you just give them a chance.Dot Smith.

I sometimes feel that ‘my’ is a word that blocks love… if we thought of our children, our dog, our world, our dying oceans, our disappearing elephants, perhaps we would be able to change our mind set and work with each other to save lives, share happiness, and even save our world from the sixth great extinction which scientists fear is imminent. – Valerie Davies

I believe in smaller government.

I also believe the best way to achieve smaller government is to deliver better government. – Bill English

. . . My problem with such people is twofold. First, they believe that the perfect society is attainable only through the intervention of the state, and that this justifies laws that impinge heavily on individual choice. And second (which is closely related), they have no trust in the wisdom of ordinary people. They seem incapable of accepting that most of us are capable of behaving sensibly and in our own best interests without coercion or interference by governments and bureaucrats.  – Karl du Fresne

. . . this Government has always given credit for the stronger economy to New Zealand households and businesses, which, in the face of a recession and an earthquake, rearranged the way they operated, became more efficient and leaner, and got themselves through a very difficult period. We have always attributed the strength of the economy to the people who are the economy. – Bill English

The real test is not whether people have an opinion, it is whether they are willing to put the money up. –  Bill English

Tree and sea-changers may love the rolling hills and open spaces, but they can’t then object to the dust, smell and noise that are part of everyday life in the farming zone. – Victorian Farmers Federation president Peter Tuohey

If a trade deal threatened to wipe out a million dollar regulatory asset you owned, you’d fight it too. Just like the mafia didn’t want the end of prohibition.Eric Crampton

. . . And when we say ugly, we mean ugly from each perspective – it doesn’t mean ‘I’ve got to swallow a dead rat and you’re swallowing foie gras.’ It means both of us are swallowing dead rats on three or four issues to get this deal across the line. Tim Groser

I’ve always said worry is a wasted emotion. You have to plan for some of these things. We knew we could possibly have someone in the bin at some stage, so it’s just a matter of making sure you have everyone knowing what they have to do – Steve Hansen

“I want to enjoy this success: how could you get enough of this? We will worry about that afterwards. I just want to have a good time with a great bunch of men having played in a wonderful World Cup final. I am really proud of this team and being able to wear the jersey. If you get moments like this, why would you ever call it a day?Richie McCaw

“To think that Darren Weir has given me a go and it’s such a chauvinistic sport, I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off, and John Richards and Darren stuck strongly with me, and I put in all the effort I could and galloped him all I could because I thought he had what it takes to win the Melbourne Cup and I can’t say how grateful I am to them,” Payne told Channel Seven after the race. “I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world.

“This is everybody’s dream as a jockey in Australia and now probably the world. And I dreamt about it from when I was five years old and there is an interview from my school friends, they were teasing me about, when I was about seven, and I said, “I’m going to win the Melbourne Cup” and they always give me a bit of grief about it and I can’t believe we’ve done it.  . . .Michelle Payne

“We have just come 11,000 miles to congratulate the best rugby team in the world. But ladies and gentlemen, what the hell am I going to say to the Aussies next week?” Prince Charles

Here’s the thing — none of us get out of life alive. So be gallant, be great, be gracious, and be grateful for the opportunities that you have. Jake Bailey

nzherald.co.nz's photo.

 


Quote of the day

August 28, 2015

. . . The nature of CYF is chaotic because it deals with chaotic people. The organisation is in crisis because it exists to respond to crisis. No law changes, or system revamps, or ‘best practice’ applications will change that.

I feel sorry for the people who work with deeply dysfunctional families. The best of them burn out, and the worst become desensitized.

This latest from the Commissioner, and then s panel to “transform” CYF are just part and parcel of the ongoing drama that is chasing the tail of  inter-generational social malaise driven by paying people to have babies. . .Lindsay Mitchell

She was responding to the release of The Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills’s State of Care report.


Quote of the day

June 16, 2015

“The government currently invests $331 million each year in this sector, and we need a structured plan to ensure this funding is making a difference for our most vulnerable Kiwis, and that it is being invested in the right places,” says Mrs Tolley.

“At the moment there is little evidence of the effectiveness, or not, of funding in this sector, because up until now most contracts have focused on the numbers of clients receiving services, rather than the effect that the service has on improving the lives of vulnerable people.

“We need to address this so that future contracts are built around positive results and evidence of what is working.”  –  Anne Tolley

Hat tip: Lindsay Mitchell


More of what’s working not boring

May 21, 2015

Several commentators are criticising today’s Budget for being boring.

Boring in the sense of no surprises is good for Budgets.

We should be grateful the days when everyone stocked up on fuel and fags then sat round the radio listening to the Finance Minister add taxes here and give out subsidies and other taxpayer largesse there are long gone.

But a Budget that delivers more of what’s working for New Zealand shouldn’t be written off as boring and the programme being built on in successive Budgets is working.

NBR editor Nevil Gibson writes of a Budget success story we don’t hear about:

One of the biggest contributors to the reduction in the budget deficit is the money not being spent on welfare.

It’s a success story you won’t hear much about as opposition parties insist a rise in the welfare budget is a better measure.

But, like the ACC reforms and its lower fees, the savings in welfare benefits are like a tax cut for all other taxpayers. . .

The reduction of people on benefits pays dividends in financial and human terms.

The reduction in benefit numbers since the reforms began in 2012 and the projections are described as “startling” by an Australian commentator, Rick Morton. 

His column quotes figures that show the number of years people will spend on benefits has fallen 12%, worth 650,000 years of benefit receipt in the next five decades.

“Two-thirds of this is due to a reduction in the number of people who will gain benefits and one-third is a reduction in the time they will spend on those benefits,” Mr Morton writes.

“From $NZ86 billion, the future liability of the welfare recipients shrank to $76.5 billion in 2013 and to $69 billion last year, largely on the back of economic factors such as inflation.

“But $2.2 billion of the reduction was attributed, in a report released earlier this year, to the ‘effectiveness’ of the policy, which is measured by fewer people getting access to benefits and more people leaving them.” . .

Lindsay Mitchell notes the success in reducing the number of teen pregnancies:

. . . To be demonstrating prevention-success alongside support for the diminishing number who do become teenage parents is a political dream. 

Stopping people going on to welfare and getting beneficiaries from welfare to work are two of the best ways to alleviate poverty.

Whatever further measures to address the problem of poverty are announced in today’s Budget, the significant reduction in the long-term financial and social costs of welfare are anything but boring.

An email from the National Party yesterday made these points:

  1. 194,000 new jobs created since the start of 2011 under National – that equates to around 120 new jobs every day.
  2. We’ve turned the Government’s books around – the deficit peaked at $18.4 billion in 2011 and now we’re expected to be back in surplus next year, a year later than the target we set in 2011. We’ll still be one of the first developed countries to be back in surplus after the global financial crisis.
  3. This will be the type of Budget a responsible Government can deliver when it’s following a plan that’s working.
  4. Budget 2015 will contain $1 billion in new spending. It continues to support New Zealanders and help families while responsibly managing the growing economy and the Government’s finances.
  5. The Government will continue building on what we’ve put in place to address the drivers of hardship. This approach is working – there are now 42,000 fewer children in benefit-dependent families than three years ago. So our spending will make a difference to those who receive it, while at the same time we respect the taxpayers who pay for it.

There is no money for a lolly scramble budget and even if there was that would be wrong.

A business as usual budget might be boring to some but it’s working for New Zealand.

 


Better results not ideological obsessions

April 30, 2015

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.


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