FROM WELFARE TO WELL-BEING

  • Roger Sowry
Social Services, Work and Income

BUSINESS BREAKFAST,
THE BEEHIVE BANQUET HALL,
WELLINGTON

Prime Minister, Director General of Social Welfare Margaret Bazley, Chief Executive of the Employers Federation Steve Marshall, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

This morning I want to share with you three messages.

The first message, is that unbeknown to many New Zealanders a quiet revolution is going on in the delivery of social welfare services. This revolution is ensuring that the very best value for money is being obtained from the taxpayer's contribution to welfare.

The second message is that Government provided welfare services on their own will never provide the spring board of opportunity to ensure that every child, every young person and every family is able to participate positively in society.

The third message, is that for every child in every district, town and city to have a fair chance to participate positively requires the support of every organisation, every business, every individual.

In the booklet that we will give you at the conclusion of this morning's presentation there are a number of sobering statistics. For example:

At any given time 45% of families in this country may be at some risk of poor outcomes for their children - for example, those on low income whose circumstances worsen as a result of family change, illness or unemployment.

A further five percent, or 25,000 families, have persistent and multiple disadvantages which puts them at high risk of poor outcomes for their children.

28% of children under 17 have parents receiving a benefit compared with 14% a decade ago.
Over the last year there have been massive changes in the way income support is delivered in New Zealand. Income Support now individually manages 360,000 of its customers on a one to one basis. Also improving efficiency are four telephone call centres based in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch, which receive over five million phone calls per year from all over the country. Seventy percent of these enquiries are resolved over the phone and the rest have appointments made for them with a customised service officer. This amounts to arranging 10,000 appointments a day.

These initiatives mean that Income Support staff can spend more time meeting one-to-one with their customers. These meetings often involve working through an action plan which sets out a customer's goals and detailed actions to achieve those goals.

While customised service is still in its early days it's getting a very good reception from the clients, of whom 86% indicated in a recent survey that they were very satisfied with the service being given.

The second major component of work which is currently underway centres on what is known as the Strengthening Families Strategy. Strengthening Families aims to provide seamless services to families at risk. It involves the Health, Education and Welfare agencies working closely together to help families with multiple problems that require a range of interventions.

Strengthening Families currently covers 12 territorial local authority areas representing over 40% of the nation's population. In those areas, committees of local managers of the health, education and welfare agencies are meeting on a regular basis. In looking at individual cases within those meetings, a lead agency is appointed to co-ordinate the care and support required. The lead agency becomes the principal point of contact for the family and is responsible for ensuring that the appropriate agencies are involved and are working together to address the particular issues of that case.

In the cases which have so far been carried out under this new system, the results are most encouraging.

This co-ordinated approach is also being replicated at national level. A study of national programmes for families at risk is currently underway which aims to identify the gaps and overlaps in services. The aim is to refine existing programmes and free up resources for higher priority initiatives which will yield the best return on the taxpayer's investment.

The third stream of the Strengthening Families strategy is to examine parental responsibilities, the code of social responsibility component. I anticipate that the code will be completed early in the New Year. I have already publicly stated that any code of social responsibility must cover all New Zealanders. We must all accept the responsibilities that we have to ourselves, our families and society, and any code of social responsibility must reflect this.

Every day in New Zealand there are examples of breakdown in our communities, of people who have stopped taking responsibility. We see and hear of parents abandoning their children, persistent truanting, parents not immunising their children, parents not sending their kids to school, neglecting their children, and our residential facilities filled with repeat juvenile offenders.

I'm talking about parents who leave someone else to pick up the pieces.

We already have laws which ultimately set boundaries for parents in the worst situations. We also have expectations of what the State expects in return for State help. But laws are the end of the line. I believe that a code of social responsibility has the ability to act as a foundation for future social policy development, over all social portfolios. Such a code signals a bold step for New Zealand. It will pave the way for social policy development for present and future Governments.

We have in front of us, an opportunity to halt the breakdown in our communities, and turn it around into something positive, something to be proud of, something that will benefit future generations more than our own.

This is what taking responsibility is all about, and it must start with families, for it is families which form the backbone of our communities.

This Government has some very simple, very basic goals we want to achieve with a code.

First and foremost we want a better society for our children. We want to break the cycles of disadvantage, which do not have to be passed from generation to generation. We want our children staying at school, being given an education so they have the skills to realise their own dreams. We want communities where children are not disadvantaged. As Minister of Social Welfare I want less juvenile offending, and fewer cases of abuse and neglect.

New Zealand needs a co-ordinated approach to social responsibility. We have Government agencies and non-Government agencies playing an increasing role in delivery of social services. The code will make sure that we are all going in the right direction.

But as I said at the start of this address, the Government and its delivery agencies can only go so far.

Over the last two years, the Director-General of Social Welfare has consulted with the leaders of local communities and with people who work with children and young people. Three spheres of activity in which local communities can embark upon to improve the well-being of their children and young people keep cropping up. These are relatively straight forward activities which largely fall outside the scope of state provided or funded programmes.

They are:

after school care activities, including home work centres for older children, and
out of school organised sport and recreation on at least a weekly basis
activities to ensure that every student leaving school does so with at least a basic written plan as to their future goals and ambitions and how to go about achieving them.
There are already examples of this type of activity taking place. You will find some outlined in the Welfare to Well-being publication but there are many more undocumented examples. The fact is that they are often small scale programmes running in one or two centres and dependent on the enthusiasm and resources of a very few.

As many companies have found out, encouraging employees to get involved in community activities is a winner for all involved. It enhances the standing of the business in the community, it is of immense value to the organisation being helped, it develops the skills of those providing the help and is personally rewarding.

The concept of corporate volunteering is relatively new in New Zealand but Corporate Volunteer centres do exist in our larger cities. Corporate Volunteer Centres can help match the skills and resources of businesses with the needs of not for profit organisations working for children and young people.

Organisations like the Prince of Wales Trust, which Steve Marshall will talk about later, are working with a number of disadvantaged youth to give them opportunities to joint the adult working world.

My dream is that many more initiatives covering the three types of activity I have outlined will spring up in local communities.

Similarly, my own Department, through its Strengthening Families teams has been assembling project details for a number of initiatives in Wellington and other districts. Some of these projects build on existing initiatives, some are new. Without exception they need local help and support to get off the ground.

We can no longer expect the taxpayer to solve all society's ills through handouts from Wellington. By the same token we cannot afford to let generations of children and young people lose their way. Each and every one of us must, therefore, use our talents, our skills, our time, energy and resources to find new ways to achieve the vision of a society which not only says it cherishes its children but proves it in actions day by day.

Thank you.