Stronger Communities - Stronger New Zealand

  • Roger Sowry
Social Services, Work and Income

Hotel Grand Chancellor, 161 Cashel Street, Christchurch

Good afternoon. A strong nation is characterised by the strength of its communities. When communities break down, the nation as a whole suffers.

Welfare arose out of the desire for politicians to put in a safety net to ensure a minimum standard of living for those who could not fend for themselves. Despite the welfare system having its origins in our regional communities, the State gradually reduced the role of communities and focused on the socialist model of "leave it to the State".

As the concept of "family" changes and society as a whole changes, this model is designed to fail. Because it takes away control from the very people who understand family - and that is the community. The initiatives I want to share with you today, are about giving some of that responsibility back to the community and back to the family, whilst continuing to work with Government to provide for those who are simply, unable to provide for themselves.

One of our new initiatives is called Strengthening Families. The Strengthening Families initiative brings together the Ministers and Chief Executives of Education, Health and Social Welfare to ensure that we develop and deliver services in a coordinated way.

Government already makes a substantial investment in services designed to strengthen and support New Zealand families, and improve the lives of our children. But we are concerned that this investment is not having a positive impact on our most disadvantaged families, and that services to these families are not well targeted or coordinated. There are families falling through the cracks as a result. For example, I know of one young person which had nine agencies involved in his life:

a public health nurse,
a Maori mental health group
the local school
the CHE as a mental health provider
a local community support service
the Children, Young Persons and their Families Service
their GP, and
a local Maori social service provider.
The question is, who was in control? Who was taking responsibility for coordinating these agencies around that child? The answer is; no one. No agency had overall responsibility. And this young person was getting multitude of often confusing messages. And like many others, was not being asked to take any responsibility or control of his own life.

This example shows why we have to do better with the taxpayer money that we are currently spending.

This is why we have developed the strengthening families strategy. Our prime aim is to improve the effectiveness and coordination of policies and programmes designed to help families. We take the young man, with nine agencies involved in his life, we coordinate the agencies, one becomes the lead agency and we have a planned approach over all agencies to deal with this young man. Strengthening families will develop better coordination between the Health, Education and Social Welfare sectors and other providers at a local level and a national level.

Simply, what we are doing is working with local communities to tap into good ideas and develop new ways that Health, Education and Social Welfare can work together more effectively.

We're also carrying out a stocktake of the services that these agencies deliver within our communities. This will identify gaps and overlaps and whether better use can be made of existing funding at both local and national levels.

Firstly, we are setting up local coordination projects in the community. We've started in Waitakere City, Manukau, Papakura City, Kapiti, Christchurch, Hutt Valley and the Wairarapa. We are working on Hamilton and Tauranga. And hope to set up in the Far North, Kaipara, Invercargill, Gore, Southland, Rotorua, Whakatane, Bay of Plenty and Kawerau this year.

A further stage of Strengthening Families will look at the obligations that parents have to their children, and ways we can encourage parents to meet those obligations.

Here in Christchurch, a programme called "Early Start" is already in tune with Strengthening Families. Early Start is an intensive home visiting service targeted at families with a new born child who are facing difficulties. The programme helps them access the services they need. The focus is on early intervention. If we can help parents tackle problems they are facing now, it can eliminate greater problems further down the track.

Solutions to New Zealand's welfare dependency problems can only be achieved if the public, private, local government and not-for-profit sectors work together. Not against each other. I accept that the State has a role to play in breaking the cycles of welfare dependency. But we will only make progress if families and communities are involved. We must encourage a partnership between Government and the community. We need only look to our communities to understand that they are often better placed to identify their local problems.

There are excellent examples all around New Zealand of how communities, businesses and Government are working together in partnership to make a difference to address local problems. Looking for blame for social problems will get us nowhere fast.

We need to look at the issues in front of us, accept that Government alone cannot solve the problems, and take some action. If we are to make a difference, the solutions and commitment come down to each and every one of us.

The National Party has prided itself on setting the world stage alight with economic reform. The economic gains we have made have enabled the Government to meet its social obligations. As the Minister of Social Welfare, I want to see programmes aimed at making sure that every New Zealander is encouraged to use those opportunities to build self reliance and independence from the Welfare State. Strengthening Families will strengthen our communities. A strong nation is characterised by its strong communities. I believe we are heading in the right direction. Thank you