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.


2014 blogging in review

December 31, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 450,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 19 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Among the stats are most viewed posts:

The top referring sites:

  1. nominister.blogspot.co.nz
  2. keepingstock.blogspot.co.nz
  3. kiwiblog.co.nz
  4. twitter.com
  5. lindsaymitchell.blogspot.co.nz

No Minister is consistently the site from which most visitors come.

Keeping Stock is still a top referrer even though, sadly, it has gone into recess.

And the five most active commenters:

 

  • 1 robertguyton 1286 comments
  • 2 TraceyS 1197 comments
  • 3 Dave Kennedy 1045 comments
  • 4 Mr E 984 comments
  • 5 Andrei 645 comments

Thank you all for reading and even more for contributing to conversations.

I’ve been blogging much less since late September. Readership has dropped as a consequence – I’m hoping that’s a case of less quantity and more quality. :)

P.S. Thanks to WordPress and its staff who provide the platform for this blog, give prompt and helpful assistance when it’s required and provide such good service.

 


Break in the inter-generational cycle of social dysfunction

September 13, 2014

Lindsay Mitchell blogs on one of National’s significant achievements – breaking the inter-generation cycle of social dysfunction:

. . . I asked MSD how many sole parents were on any benefit in 2008, 2011 and 2014 (June quarter).
Knowing they would provide working age numbers (18-64) I also asked for sole parents aged 16-17.

The results are graphed below. 18-64 year-olds follow an expected pattern – up during the recession. Though it should be noted that today the numbers are lower than after the economic boom period up to 2008.

Most interestingly though, the 16-17 year-old numbers have just plummeted. Across all ethnicities! Exactly what National wanted to achieve. And it’s not a the result of more 16-17 young parents being denied assistance. The teenage birth rate is also tracking down quite significantly.

This development cannot be overstated in importance. It means fewer children at risk of ill-health, under achievement, neglect or abuse, disaffection and drop-out, ending up in state care, and ultimately convictions and imprisonment – all most common among children with very young parents.

It represents a break in the inter-generational cycle of social dysfunction. Truly good news. . .

It is indeed truly good news for the people who are not trapped on welfare with all the negative consequences that is more likely to lead to.

It is also good news for the rest of us – more people in work and fewer on welfare saves us the long term social and financial costs of benefit dependency.

If people are looking for just one reason to vote for National this is one of the better ones because it is determined to carry on addressing the causes of problems like this rather than just throwing money at the symptoms.

A strong economy means more jobs, higher wages, and fewer people on welfare. #Working4NZ


Must not hesitate to condemn, utterly, the evil

September 12, 2014

Brendan Boyle, Chief Executive, Ministry of Social Development spoke wise and compassionate words at the Ashburton Civic Service to remember Leigh Cleveland and Peggy Noble yesterday:

 

. . . Whenever people die at work, different communities of family, friends and colleagues are drawn together. We see different sides of people. Death illuminates the whole person.

The thoughts I have to share are about the work of Public Servants, such as Leigh Cleveland and Peggy Noble, and our injured colleague Lindy Curtis, whom I am pleased to say is making progress to the relief of her family, friends and colleagues.

New Zealand is a democracy, something for which many have given their lives.

Public servants rightly commit to implementing the policies of the elected government, under the law.

For all of us it is a job. For many – perhaps most of us – that job includes elements of a calling, a vocation, a commitment to others.

And so it was for Leigh Cleveland and Peggy Noble and Lindy Curtis at work last week.

In the Ministry of Social Development we say: “We will always be here to help people in need”.

Leigh and Peggy were at work, being there for people in need, when they lost their lives. Lindy was there for people in need when she was shot.

They were serving people directly by providing them with information, entitlements, and services.

They will not be forgotten. Family and friends will remember and mourn them with an intimate and personal insight.

Those of us who worked with them will remember their service to New Zealand.

Like our other staff, they came to work each day prepared to face the whole range of New Zealanders who seek our services and support.

Like our other staff Leigh and Peggy responded with firmness in implementing policy, with kindness in explanation, and with intelligence in seeking solutions to people’s problems.

You can’t work on our front desks without empathy, sympathy and commitment to people.

In marking this tragedy, let’s also mark the professionalism they showed on all the other, uneventful, days of their working lives.

All of us who are committed to public service can take pride that Leigh and Peggy were a part of us, and realise, in their loss, the importance of our own work and the public service itself.

It is an honour to be here with both families and to share your grief.

Our respect for Leigh and Peggy has been shown by government workers throughout New Zealand marking two minutes silence a week after the event and in many other ways.

It is shown in the expressions of concern for Lindy and for those affected emotionally by the experience.

Most of all, our respect is shown by our continued work – often difficult, and always challenging – to help New Zealanders to help themselves to be safe, strong and independent.

Those who do this work also need to be safe.

Their families should not have to fear that they will not return home at the end of the day.

In the days, weeks and years ahead we will continue to think about, and learn what we can from what happened.

I take my responsibility for this seriously.

I will be asking myself, over and over, what more could I have done?

I know others are doing the same thing, and that at times we feel as if we are searching in darkness.

I’ve heard it said that it is better “to light one candle than to curse the darkness”.  We are looking for those points of light, those things we can learn from what has happened.  

Every action we take so that in the future staff will be safer will be a tribute to Leigh, and Peggy, and all victims of this terrible act.

But while we look for lessons, we cannot ignore the darkness.

We must not hesitate to condemn, utterly, the evil that occurred in the Ashburton office that day.

We may in time learn to what extent it was a result of social conditions, or medical issues, or psychological processes, or an act of will, or all of these.

But the victims – those who have died and those who must live with these memories – bear no responsibility for what has happened.

By seeking concrete actions for the future we honour the victims, and we push back against the darkness.

Already, our people are reflecting on what has happened and, putting aside their shock and anger, concentrating on what this means for us and our relationship with clients.

We respect those who need our services.

I see indications that we will be stronger in our expectations of mutual respect.

We will not be less tolerant but we will be more willing clearly to say what cannot be tolerated.

In that process we will begin to restore and renew trust.

But today is about this moment and honouring two whose lives have been taken because they worked for others, and recognising all those wounded and harmed by this attack.

Today is about realising, in our shared grief and loss, the strength of that community and society we work to build.

And it is about our responsibility, even at this moment, to not back away from our commitment to serve New Zealanders.

Hat tip: Lindsay Mitchell


Green for slow

August 18, 2014

The Green Party wants to give in-work tax credits to people who aren’t working and fund it with an envy tax.

The motivation to end child poverty is noble.

But in taking away the incentive to work they are going to increase benefit dependency, which as Lindsay Mitchell, says is one of the major determinants of poverty:

Let’s remember is was Labour that introduced the IWTC, the rationale being to attract more parents, mainly single, into employment. Clark and Cullen believed that the best way to get children out of poverty was to get their parents into paid work. From Cullen’s 2006 budget speech:

The Government believes that ultimately work is the best way out of poverty, and provides the best social and economic outcomes for families in the long run. Making work pay through the In-Work Payment component of the Working for Families package improves people’s opportunities to make a better life for themselves and their families.

In Social Developments author Tim Garlick wrote

The decision to strengthen work incentives by not increasing the income of non-working families was strongly criticised by some academics and community groups…

 But they stood by their conviction.

And the courts have upheld the policy’s legitimacy against multiple challenges from the Child Poverty Action Group.

Yet the Greens see no value in paid work. No value in children growing up with working role models.No value in actually earning an income; participating, contributing and producing.

All they see is a quick cash cure (with no gaurantee the money will be spent on the children) which comes with the almighty risk that more children will grow up welfare dependent as the financial rewards of working, as meagre as they are, disappear.

I must have said it hundreds of times. Welfare made families poor. More of it is not the answer.

Contrary to what the Greens believe, neither more welfare nor higher taxes are the answer to reducing poverty:

The Greens/Labour recipe of more and higher taxes would stall New Zealand’s economic recovery just when we are getting back on our feet after the Global Financial Crisis, National’s Associate Finance spokesman Steven Joyce says.

“The Greens have proposed a 40 per cent top tax rate that would affect many hard-working New Zealanders, including school principals, doctors, and many small business owners,” Mr Joyce says.

“We’ve been here before. A 40 per cent tax rate is damaging to the economy because it increases tax avoidance, penalises hard work, and sends some of our best and brightest offshore.

“And it is of course just another in a long list of new taxes Labour and the Greens want to introduce including a capital gains tax, a big carbon tax, taxes on water use, higher personal taxes, and regional fuel taxes.

“Just when the New Zealand economy is heading in the right direction and we are growing the largest number of new jobs in a decade, the Greens want to go back to the old tax and spend approach that clearly didn’t work in the lead up to the GFC.

“Back then, our best and brightest were flooding out the door for better opportunities in Australia. Now migration out to Australia has stopped.

“Back then, welfare rolls were already growing because of our domestic recession. Now 1600 people a week are moving off welfare and into work because of our growing economy.

“Back then, government spending had jumped by 50 per cent in just five years, pushing floating mortgage rates close to 11 per cent and leaving us with forecasts of budget deficits and soaring debt into the future.

Mr Joyce says the economic recipe that’s working includes lower, not higher, taxes and a government that is relentlessly focussed on growing jobs and getting people off welfare support and into meaningful work.

“National’s economic plan is working for New Zealand. We have just become one of the fastest growing economies in the OECD. Keeping with the plan is the best way of helping people the opportunity to get off welfare and into work. We should not go back to the failed recipes of the past,” Mr Joyce says.

And let’s not forget that the Greens are also promising a carbon tax which would impact directly on every individual and business adding costs not just to luxuries but to basic necessities including food and heating.

Anything they “give” to reduce poverty will be more than counteracted by what they take away in direct and indirect cost increases and the brake their policies would impose on the economy.

Green is supposed to be for go, but Green influence in government would be for slow and low when it comes to economic growth and the social progress and environmental protection and enhancement that depend on that.


Motherhood as career option

July 13, 2014

An interesting comment on Lindsay Mitchell’s column on the greatest risk: from Rosy Fenwicke:

. . . One piece missed from the analysis is the cultural movement which embraced the idealisation of ‘motherhood’ as a career option regardless of the financial means to support this ‘career’ choice. Prior to the ‘liberation’ of women in the 1970s or rather the ‘liberation of entitlement’, motherhood was always associated with how it was to be financially supported in the long term- hence marriage and the partnership with men.

The whole women’s movement, with its middle and upper income roots, did no service to women with little education/income or their children. Likewise the liberation of women, liberated men from their connection with parenting and their responsibilities towards their offspring.

I do think the liberation of women is a good thing but it is only now that the younger generation is getting it right and pairing it with the need to assume the responsibilities which go with it- earning your own living!

My generation may well have been the last to have been brought up with the expectation that we would marry and have children, in that order; that we would probably give up our careers, or at least put them on hold while our children were young; and that our husbands would provide for our families.

That was before the DPB which enabled women to escape abusive relationships, but also enabled them to replace their children’s fathers with the state.

I wouldn’t want to return to the days that women and their children were beholden to their husbands for everything and trapped in dreadful situations because they were financially dependent on bad men.

But I applaud government initiatives which are working with women on the DPB to help them help themselves and escape the poverty trap in which welfare can snare them.


Most deep-seated deprivation occurs in beneficiary families

July 10, 2014

Quote of the day:

Employment for existing sole parents, and deterrence for prospective, particularly young parents, is the most effective approach to reducing child poverty. Lindsay Mitchell

This is a very small part of a post which deserves to be read in full.

It shows that being in a benefit-dependent family is the greatest predictor of child poverty.

That isn’t an argument for more generous benefits.

It’s an argument in favour of current government policies which aim to help people from welfare to work, for their own sake and the sake of their children.

 

Great work by Paula Bennett MP and all the social sector team.

The post is an opinion piece in this week’s Listener which also published two letters:

Your support of Professor Jonathan Boston’s definition of child poverty in New Zealand (Editorial, July 5) simply perpetuates the debate over how much money to throw at the problem. But money is just a glib answer to so many of society’s ills and, in this case, skirts around the elephant that’s filling the room.

A child without access to a flat-screen TV and missing out on birthday parties might constitute deprivation from an academic perspective, but the most pervasive manifestation of poverty, and the most distressing to witness, is that of three- and four-year-olds who have never known or been shown love and affection from their parents; children who are emotional vacuums.

Boston argues that children from poor homes are less likely to succeed educationally. He’s just missed that elephant. Although emotionally deprived children are almost exclusively from low-income households, a household having a low income is not the cause of such child neglect. In fact, if a child from a low-income home is loved and emotionally secure, the scholastic disparity with children from more affluent backgrounds is almost non-existent.

Any early childhood teacher will testify that before a child can start to learn, he or she must be emotionally engaged. Teaching and engaging a child from an emotionally deprived background is almost impossible and certainly beyond the resources of most early-childhood educational centres. And without early intervention, these emotionally deprived children will later help to fill our mental and correctional facilities.

Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes to the problems of bad parents – parents who probably shouldn’t be parents – and social agencies that are poorly resourced and pursue the least challenging options. Nonetheless, a good start would be recognition and debate on New Zealand’s real child poverty issue: the love-starved little ones.

Roger Clarke
(Te Awamutu)

Poverty isn’t just financial it’s emotional too.

The second letter builds on this point

Your editorial appears very “ambulance at the foot of the cliff” stuff.

Everyone would agree it is not in society’s best interests to have malnourished children suffering various degrees of brain damage as a result of poor nutrition. Although there will be exceptions to this generalisation, it is reasonable to assume that a high percentage of parents of such children are just incompetent in a variety of ways – quite possibly as a result of ignorance and deprived upbringings of their own.

The priority needs to be to identify the poor carers and the common causes of their inabilities to cope. Then introduce policies that direct resources at those people while forcing them to address their shortcomings.

The majority of carers on low incomes are managing to bring up children who are adequately loved, fed, clothed and housed. For the deprived children, the issue in a great many cases is more that of carer competency than available cash. More money is not necessarily going to solve anything in such situations if the underlying competency issues are not addressed.

Denis Muir
(RD2, Kaiwaka)

This is why National’s policy is to work with teen parents to educate them and help them help themselves and their children.

Lack of money can be part of the problem but lack of knowledge, skills and love are often contributing factors to child poverty too.

That can happen in families at any income level.


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