• Peter Gresham
Social Welfare

Thank you all for coming this morning to our third annual "From Welfare to Well-being" business breakfast.

With the advent of a general election not far away we did in fact contemplate whether or not to postpone these series of functions which have been held in each of the last two years in the five main centres.

The long term issues involved in welfare are so important, however, that in many ways they are above politics.

Regardless of the outcome of the election in October, I would hope that any Government of whatever persuasion, would see fit to continue the many initiatives which have already begun, particularly initiatives which have been created and organized at local level.

Protecting the rights of children, strengthening families and breaking the cycle of intergenerational welfare dependency. These are some of the biggest and most difficult challenges we face as a society on the verge of the 21st Century.

As major contributors to this country's wealth, as those who provide the jobs for our citizens and as community leaders it is certainly important that you hear first hand an annual report on the progress of the Department of Social Welfare's "From Welfare to Well-being" Strategy which aims at facilitating some of the ways to meet the challenges we face.

From where I sit as Minister of Social Welfare, it is clear to me that you can't have safe and secure communities without contributing and participating citizens and you can't have strong families without capable and nurturing adults.

Most importantly as a nation we cannot guarantee a prosperous future without investing in our children, without giving them the skills and opportunities to become fully developed individuals.

We would be deluding ourselves, however, if we imagined that quick fixes could be found to welfare problems.

We are dealing with entrenched inter-generational problems that have grown dramatically over the last 25 years.

It's going to take a decade or more to really get on top of them, yet get on top of them we must, for as we know, by the year 2010 the population profile will have reached a critical point.

Increasing numbers of older people will from that point on begin to place enormous pressure on the nation's resources.

Utilizing the window of opportunity between now and then to tackle the problem of working age beneficiary dependency should be of vital concern to all New Zealanders.

Over the last two years we have laid before attendees at these breakfast functions the staggering statistics of welfare in this country.

While most of us are now very familiar with those statistics I still find after nearly three years in the portfolio that they have an ability to astound.

Here's a few new ones and you will find others on the complimentary memo pads before you:

  • Although new job numbers have risen by more than 200,000 over the past five years, unemployment benefit numbers have dropped by only 19,000 and DPB, sickness and invalid benefits have increased by almost twice this number.
  • Between 1985 and 1996 the percentage of working age people dependent on the state increased from 8% to 21% and
  • 258,000 or 28% of children live in benefit dependent families now compared with 12% in 1985.

Such statistics undeniably reinforce the message that an improving economy of itself will not solve our welfare problems. It will take the vision, creativity, support and persistence of all sectors of the community to triumph.

In the Department of Social Welfare much has already been done to get the organization in shape to tackle the biggest challenge ever faced by the welfare state.

The Department is mid-way through a $104 million information services strategy which has seen the implementation of a consolidated network and consistent technical architecture for the whole department.

The reality is that information technology has enabled staff numbers in the Department to come down from over 7500 in 1992 to under 6,600 today while remaining staff are undertaking a wider range of activities than ever before.

On the financial side operational costs have reduced from $500 million in 1992 to $462 million this financial year. The downward trend is predicted to be maintained through into 1998.

On the back of such changes more is being done with fewer staff and resources.

Already half of Income Support's 360,000 working age customers are being managed on a one to one basis through customised service. By Christmas all customers will have been allocated their own customer services officer.

On the social services side there are many more front-line workers in the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Service than there were two years ago.

Prior to implementation of the recommendations of the Weeks report there were 1123 front-line social workers, coordinators and supervisors.

Today there are 1234, an increase of 111.

In the last year considerable work has been done to put in place a long term residential strategy for children and young people with the most serious problems.

Over the next few years youth justice facilities will wherever possible be moved out of residential areas and care and protection facilities will be redeveloped.

Planning is already well advanced for a specialist residential unit for adolescents with sexual behavior problems to be developed and run in conjunction with Barnado's.

A contract has also been signed with a group of professionals in Auckland for development of therapeutic programmes for young people with severe behavioral difficulties.

Out in the community the Department has also been working with iwi organizations for the establishment of iwi social services.

While this process has taken somewhat longer than all of us would have liked, it is expected that up to eight iwi organizations will have approved social services for the care and protection of children by the end of this calendar year.

And while a great deal of focus and attention has been on programmes and services to cater for the pressing needs of children and young people, there has been significant activity taking place to establish better services for older people too.

Income Support now has 15 Super Centres totally dedicated to serving the needs of superannuitants.

The number of these centres is planned to total 36 within two years.

Not only are superannuitants able to have superannuation queries sorted out in a quiet and relaxed environment but they are also able to be put in touch with other helping agencies via the Super Centres.

These are exciting developments which mark out New Zealand's Department of Social Welfare as a world leader in its field.

But the department is not alone in establishing far sighted initiatives.

Mayors throughout New Zealand have signed up to the "Welfare to Well-being" approach, to focus on areas of greatest need.

Many have gone to great lengths to help our managers educate their local communities about the nature of the problem.

Others have weighed in with locally inspired initiatives while yet more have quietly galvanized a whole range of central and local government agencies into more coordinated action.

The Works Peninsula agency which I talked about in my address last year and which we will hear about shortly has now put its 160th customer into full time work after almost a year.

In Waitakere, Mayor Bob Harvey is chairing a "Strengthening Families" Project.

This project is breaking new ground in looking at ways in which central government social service providers and local agencies can better coordinate their service delivery for young people.

In Hamilton and in Napier, suburban rejuvenation projects are hitting their straps while here in Christchurch the Income Support Service is collaborating with schools to reach people in need of help within the school precincts.

We heard at the Wellington function of the great work being done under the "Changing Horizons" programme aimed especially at Maori and Pacific Island beneficiaries.

Most of the main centres, have very active inter-agency groups to tackle employment issues. Christchurch City is particularly active in this regard.

In Northland, the R. Tucker Thompson schooner Trust is channeling disadvantaged children and young people into very positive character building activities.

In Auckland the Project K Trust with Graeme Dingle as Executive Director is getting up and running, putting in place with the assistance of some very prominent New Zealanders and corporate organizations a very well thought through outdoors oriented programme for young people from difficult backgrounds.

Older people haven't been forgotten about either. Your own Southpower is involved in a highly innovated project to assist senior citizens keep warm in winter, promoting energy efficiency, and the benefits of good insulation.

But what of the longer term strategies.

Last year I mentioned that the Department of Social Welfare had developed ten year visions for Income Support and Social Services.

The Income Support Vision was "that positive income support enables people to transform dependency into contribution" and the social services vision was "that all families are meeting their care, control and support responsibilities."

This year we are adding a Mobilizing the Community Strategy and a Positive Ageing Strategy to the slate of long term strategies.

The ten year vision for the former is "that all communities are mobilized to empower their citizens towards making a positive contribution to society and ultimately self reliance."

The vision for the aged is "that older people will be encouraged and supported to remain self reliant, and that they will continue to participate and contribute to the well-being of themselves, their families and the wider New Zealand community."

Action plans for the mobilizing the community strategy will very much be a partnership effort between central and local government, businesses and the voluntary sector.

For the aged, key strategies for moving toward the vision will involve encouraging New Zealanders to plan for a positive and self reliant retirement, encouraging and supporting older people to stay independent for as long as they are able, encouraging and supporting older people to participate in and contribute toward the wider community and promoting positive attitudes to ageing throughout New Zealand society.

Specific activities to flesh out these strategies are still being worked through and will be greatly influenced by the recommendations from the Prime Ministerial Task Force on Positive Ageing which is currently moving around the country undertaking an extensive round of consultation with interested groups and individuals.

But all the strategising in the world by Wellington based government departments will not at the end of the day solve our welfare problems.

The issue is too big for that. It must have the active involvement of the whole community.

As business and community leaders, as corporate citizens, as neighbours and as members of extended families I am asking you all to please do your bit to help build a better future for our children.

All of you are people who have had the opportunity to realise your potential.

My challenge to you is to work with my Department and your communities to extend this opportunity to others.

The Departmental representatives at your table will tell you how you can do this - ask them now - you won't regret it.

Each beneficiary who gets a job, each child who gets to participate in organized recreational activity, each child or adult who learns to feel part of, rather than isolated from, the community, is a step towards a better society.

Please do your bit to help.

Help children from benefit dependent homes to have more than a life on the benefit, to aspire to.

Help them to be able to have dreams, and help them to realise those dreams.

But now I have much pleasure in asking the Mayor of Banks Peninsula Noeline Allan, and her supporters, Chris O'Connor from Income Support, and Rona Fisher, Principal of Aranui Primary School to speak to you about the exciting things happening in this area.