ADDRESS TO HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

  • Roger Sowry
Social Services, Work and Income

Social Welfare Services
Mr Speaker, No less than a quiet revolution is now going on in the delivery of social welfare services.

In a bold initiative, Income Support now individually manages 360,000 of its customers on a one to one basis. Every one of these people will work with Income Support on an action plan to identify their goals and steps to achieve them. Already nearly 40% of our beneficiaries have an action plan. The sole purpose of one to one service is to give people the tools they need to move off welfare and into paid work. It is a world leading policy which is attracting the interest of other western nations. Now again we have the opportunity to lead the world debate on social thinking and to make a difference for New Zealanders.

Many countries and their Governments have shied away from questioning traditional approaches to social problems and leading the debate to find new solutions. This Government is taking responsibility by launching the debate. New Zealanders have a responsibility to look hard at their own attitudes to social problems.

Every New Zealander has a voice in this debate. I believe that each and every New Zealander has their own expectation of what responsibilities they have as individuals and what they expect of others. All New Zealanders must have an opportunity to have their say. That opportunity will arrive in everyone's letterboxes over the next two weeks in the form of a discussion booklet asking for your views on social and family responsibility. I urge New Zealanders to read it, digest the facts, to think hard about the expectations and respond to the issues it raises. We need to know what kind of society New Zealanders want to live in.

We need to know what responsibilities New Zealanders think they have to communities, their families and other people. The discussion booklet is the first step on the road to discovering just what we as New Zealanders expect of ourselves and of others.

It signals the beginning of the debate to identify just what New Zealanders believe their social responsibilities are. Government has a responsibility to take the lead and challenge our attitudes to important social issues which directly affect us now and most importantly the children of our next generation. I ask individuals, community leaders, mayors, church leaders, and business people to accept this challenge and advance the debate another step. It is a challenge to all New Zealanders to look at their own attitudes and expectations.

The booklet is a starting point. It is about getting a common view amongst our communities on what New Zealanders' social responsibilities should be. It is not about Government abandoning its responsibilities to New Zealanders. This Government will still fund a welfare system to help those in genuine need. This Government will still provide a child protection system for vulnerable children and young people. Creating the secure and confident community we all dream of depends on us all. Government can't do it alone.

Who is responsible for finding solutions to issues like the abuse and neglect of children? The long term reliance by some people on benefits? What responsibility do we all have to reduce the level of violent crime? Some people see the answers to these problems as simple - more laws and more spending. The Labour party is a good example of that naive view. What escapes them is that laws alone won't turn bad parents into good parents. Government departments in Wellington can't make a community strong. A real difference will only be made when individuals change their attitudes towards each other and social problems in the community. Changing people's attitudes is what I want to achieve through this debate on social policy.

Some say we shouldn't have this debate, that we shouldn't be questioning the responsibilities New Zealanders have to themselves and others. I say they are wrong. Don't they care that cases of suspected abuse or neglect investigated have increased, despite more Government funding and educational campaigns.

Don't they care that only about two thirds of children are immunised by the age of two despite free health care for under sixes. Don't they care that children arrive at school too tired to learn, or without breakfast or lunch. Some are even arriving at school under the influence of drugs. This Government cares. These are issues which should concern every New Zealander. We must find new solutions to turn these statistics around; we're talking about people not just numbers. We must ask ourselves what do we expect of each other? What do we expect of ourselves? And what do we expect of Government?

The expectations of social and family responsibility set out for discussion in the booklet are a starting point for action. New Zealand was once hailed as a great place to bring up the kids, and I believe it still is. But have we as a nation lost sight of how to ensure that our society remains a great place to bring up the kids? Are we relying too much on Government to do the job for us? What are we as individuals doing to help? Should each and every one of us take more responsibility?

Our children are depending on us to offer them a better start to life. This discussion booklet is an opportunity to look at our own attitudes to offer them that start. While New Zealanders are looking at their responsibilities and expectations, in social welfare some exciting things are happening. Later this year I expect to announce the Government's new residential strategy for housing children and young people in need of care and protection and those in the youth justice system. We also expect to lay the first foundation of the treatment unit for young sexual abusers in Christchurch.

We are committed to the Children, Young Persons and Families Act and it is essential that we provide the adequate funding to service this Act. In less than a year we have committed $66 million extra funding for CYPFS to enable it to better protect vulnerable children and provide services for young offenders. We will continue with the Strengthening Families strategy across the Health, Education and Welfare sectors coordinating and working with families at risk. Another exciting initiative is the integration of Income Support and the Employment Service which has great potential to make a real difference for people looking for work and those moving from welfare to paid work.

I am very pleased that the new one stop shop will continue to work within the Welfare to Well-being philosophy created by the Department of Social Welfare four years ago. I say again Mr Speaker that many countries and their Governments have shied away from questioning traditional approaches to social problems, and shied away from leading the debate to find new solutions. This Government is starting the debate, because New Zealand needs some new solutions. New laws are not enough by themselves. Governments can change legislation, but attitudes are changed by individuals. Attitudes determine the society we live in. It is time New Zealanders looked at their own attitudes and responsibilities and ask what they expect of themselves and others around them.

I urge everyone to read the discussion booklet, think about the expectations and respond to the questions it raises. Creating the secure community we all want depends on us all. Government can't do it alone.