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Social exclusion a threat to social cohesion

The key focus of the New Zealand government’s social policy is to address social exclusion, Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey said today.

“Without attention, social exclusion could lead to the long-term disengagement of parts of society and threaten social cohesion,” he said in a paper presented to the New Zealand-Australia Community Services Ministers’Council (CSMC).

The Council is an annual meeting of the New Zealand Social Services Minister and his Australian Federal and State equivalents. The council met this year for the first time in Wellington.

Outlining the government’s new direction in social policy, Mr Maharey said elements of its approach towards promoting social participation were:

 Promoting sustainable regional economic development
 Lifting the capability of people to take advantage of the opportunities presented
 Building community capacity
 Closing the gaps between Maori and Pacific peoples and other New Zealanders.

Mr Maharey said central to social progress was a thriving and sustainable economy in which all New Zealanders had the opportunity to participate.

“Sound economic management and policies are being pursued to encourage and support the business sector, where opportunities for participation and sustainable social outcomes are created.

“Active social policies to lift the capability of people to take up those opportunities are being pursued, to ensure that all areas of the country benefit and that ultimately, all feel that they belong to, and can actively participate in, society.”

Mr Maharey said refocussing social assistance was a key part of lifting people’s capability. This sought to move towards:

 A simpler and more responsive social assistance system
 Individualised service delivery
 Provision of opportunities
 Incentives to encourage economic and social participation
 Social partnerships with interest groups.

The first step from July next year was a return to separate unemployment and sickness benefits, together with from December this year a move away from the existing mandatory community work scheme to make work in the community voluntary.

Mr Maharey also outlined other aspects of the Government’s social agenda, including work underway on a compact with the community and voluntary sectors.

He also briefed the council on the Government’s Closing the Gaps strategy and outlined how it aimed to strengthen the capacity of Maori and Pacific communities through education, better health, housing and employment.

The council today dealt with a variety of social issues, including how to prevent family violence, child protection issues, the social impact of gambling, welfare reform and positive ageing.

“This has been a positive exchange of views and it was interesting and helpful to hear how the Australian Federal and State Governments are in their different ways tackling problems that are common to us all,” said Mr Maharey.

Contact: Michael Gibbs, Press Secretary, (04) 471 9154 or (025) 270 9115.

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