From Welfare to Well-Being

  • Jim Bolger
Prime Minister


The Honourable Roger Sowry and other Parliamentary colleagues, Director-General of Social Welfare Margaret Bazley, Chief Executive of the Employers Federation and Prince of Wales Trust Chairman Steve Marshall, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am pleased to participate in this Business breakfast to discuss the "From Welfare to Well-being" strategy.

The growth in numbers of people dependent on state support for income is a highly important issue for our nation.

One in every three dollars of Government expenditure goes into welfare and a good proportion of the other two dollars is spent on the education and health needs of those families.

It is, therefore, important that the business community who help pay for welfare, are fully briefed on the issue - that they understand it and that they join other New Zealanders in meeting the challenge that it poses.

All my experience tells me that if we are to achieve the decent society which all New Zealanders want for their children, then we need a major change in attitude.

Let me read some comments.

"Our new society that we want to create will have the same values as it ever did. Fighting poverty and unemployment. Securing justice and opportunity. It should be a compassionate society. It must be a compassionate society.

But it is compassion with a hard edge, because a strong society cannot be built in the real world on soft choices.

It means fundamental reform of our welfare state, of the deal between citizen and society.

It means getting money out of social breakdown and into schools and hospitals where we want to see it.

The new welfare state must encourage work not dependency.

We are giving young people and the long-term unemployed the opportunity... We are adding today the option of self-employment as part of the new deal. But I think it right and fair that they have to take one of the options on offer.

We want single mothers with school age children at least to visit a job centre, not just stay at home waiting for the benefit cheque every week until the children are 16.

Modern welfare means a better balance between public and private money."

That's a very firm message and if those comments were in a Treasury Paper leaked to the media we would have headlines and interviews about the harsh, uncaring Government.

Instead they are from Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech to his United Kingdom Labour Party Conference a few days ago.

Those involved in welfare policy work can take comfort from them as they clearly set out that the new British Labour Government is grappling with the same welfare issues, and is coming to broadly the same conclusions, as we have.

We all know you won't get wealthy on welfare but instead of arguing about how to give a bigger hand out - the soft choice - we must instead offer a real choice by offering a hand up and expect them to take it.

Our critics are unwilling to acknowledge that the main difference between New Zealand and other countries confronting similar problems is that New Zealand is at the forefront in trying to respond constructively to the growth in welfare.

What we are dealing with in welfare is the product of substantial changes in family and social structures world-wide.

Factors such as the breakdown of families have led to the growth of the solo parent household.

Changes in employment patterns have had an impact but I must note that with 250,000 extra jobs created since 1992 the number on unemployment benefits have fallen, but the total number on benefits overall has increased by 25,000.

The issue of society's values is one which is close to my heart because in addition to tackling social problems at a community level I believe all New Zealanders would do well to examine their personal values and standards.

What do they do to contribute to the stability of their homes?

I note with interest that in recent months a number of people with high standing in the community have been reflecting on the social damage resulting from too many absent fathers and the lack of positive male role models for many New Zealand children.

In the "From Welfare To Well-being" booklet being launched this morning Professor Lawrence Mead of New York University is quoted as saying: "Most children acquire a sense of possibility not because society is fair to them but because adults near to them are".

He also said: "Children are formed in the family, and once they leave it there is remarkably little government can do to change them or to enhance their capacities."

That is sobering advice.

It is simplistic to blame economic policies alone but as I said, this is not just a New Zealand problem, it is a world-wide one and like Tony Blair I am sure that a strong society cannot be built on soft choices.

That's a hard message and but for the fact I am quoting Prime Minister Blair, the most popular Prime Minister anywhere today, I would be condemned out of hand by the left of politics and the left of society.

Despite that I sense a mood that wants to look at how we can help and encourage people to confront hard choices so they can regain control of their lives.

In recent months I have spoken on such issues in terms of the concept of social capital, of taking down barriers to community involvement.

Employment policies are being developed to ensure that work is the best form of welfare.

I am impressed by the 45,000 New Zealanders who have become involved in community work programmes as a way back to employment over the last six years.

The community work and training initiative is an open invitation for community groups to play their part in helping to meet social needs.

Roger Sowry has outlined to you ways in which he and his department believe Social Welfare clients can be better prepared to compete successfully and participate more fully in society.

In total Government policy terms, it means strengthening families through education policies to ensure that all children get the education they need, and health policies to ensure the children get the health care they need, welfare policies and action plans for income support customers.

I am impressed by what Social Welfare is doing to treat all their clients individually, so as to work out an individual programme for each of them to help move from welfare to well-being.

It also means encouraging part-time work policies like the highly successful abatement regime which arose out of the Employment Task Force, better government agency collaboration, better community decision-making and involvement can happen.

For us to succeed as a society in strengthening families and building stronger and safer communities will require the whole hearted commitment not just of the Government, but of all the major players including the business and community sectors.

I look forward to businesses becoming a more active partner in tackling social as well as economic issues.

The Government will, as I set out in my recent speech to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, continue to build on our successful economic policies.

Government is prepared to be bold in that area and I invite business leaders to be equally bold in taking an interest in their fellow citizens.

Everyone must look down their street.

Everyone must look at the kids next door, every business needs to look at their local schools and clubs - to ensure that all our children are getting a chance.

This is a chance for business leaders to take the initiative in helping mobilise their communities.

If every adult became determined to look after the social needs of just one child, and if every business extended a hand to just one community initiative, then our cities, towns and neighbourhoods could be sufficiently mobilised to ensure a better life for all our children.

I urge you, therefore, to reflect on Roger Sowry and Steve Marshall's messages this morning and more importantly act on the challenges which are being laid before you.

While most children will grow up in loving homes, sadly not all will do so.

It is realistic, however, to envisage a community which provides strong support for all children, a community which helps educate its children in skills for life, and a community which helps prepare its young people to take their place in the world of work.

I want every New Zealander and especially every business person, whether in a small business or a large business, to join us today in moving down the path to realising the vision of a society that is not only economically but also socially progressive.

Thank you.