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Downtown Community Ministry AGM - Maharey Speech

Hon Steve Maharey
8 October 2001 Speech Notes

Downtown Community Ministry AGM

Introduction

It is a pleasure to return to the Downtown Community Ministry to address your annual meeting.

In inviting me to speak to you this evening, Lynne (Dr Lynne Frith Chairperson of the Board, DCM) asked me to address partnerships between government and the community / voluntary sector ¡V as the first Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, this is a subject close to my heart.

But I would also like to use this opportunity to discuss a development in my Social Services and Employment portfolio - the recent establishment of the Ministry of Social Development and what this will mean for policy, income support and employment services.

Community / Voluntary Partnerships

In fact the social development model that has driven the merger of the Department of Work and Income and the Ministry of Social Policy also informs the partnership the government is building with the community and voluntary sector.

It is a partnership with a purpose ¡V and the purpose is social development.

The community and voluntary sector as we all know is stunning in its breadth. The sector encompasses everything from the smallest local group, to multimillion-dollar national organisations. It covers interests and concerns from sport to vital social services and just about everything in between.

If there is one defining element that spans this diversity it is the power of the sector to increase people¡¦s active involvement in their local community or community of interest.

Active is the key word; many people are linked by common beliefs, views and concerns. But that can be as abstract as a general concern for the environment, the welfare of children or the plight of the world¡¦s poor. The community and voluntary sector provides a vehicle for people to get active ¡V to turn their concerns into deeds. And simply by becoming involved people build the linkages, the networks that make our communities cohesive and vibrant places to live.

This is the notion of ¡¥civic society¡¦ and it¡¦s benefits stretch beyond social well-being.

For example Harvard Professor Robert Putnam in his study of regional governments in Italy tried to understand why some regions developed more successfully than others, and concluded:

These communities did not become civic because they were rich. The historical record suggests precisely the opposite. They became rich because they were civic.

The essential ingredient in the successful regions was that people had a high level of participation in their community ¡V they were active volunteers, they were active community participants, they built healthy, positive communities, and from this strong civic underpinning they created wealth.

Putman is not a voice in the wilderness, the economist Francis Fukuyama and many others also talk about the role community cohesion and civic trust play in underpinning and strengthening the social and economic wealth of the nation.

So how can we build our reserves of social and civic capital?

By building a culture of participation and generosity. We like to think of ourselves as a welcoming and hospitable people ¡V it is time that we proved ourselves a generous people - in philanthropic terms, but perhaps more importantly, in how generously we gift our time to worthy causes and people in need.

International Year of the Volunteer

Gifting time has been a major theme of the International Year of the Volunteer.

In New Zealand, we are fortunate to have a strong and dedicated voluntary sector. Last year, it was estimated that there were about 30,000 registered incorporated societies and charitable trusts. Every year around 3000 organisations are newly incorporated.

And the Time Use Survey in 1999 found that most New Zealanders had done some form of unpaid work for people outside their own household during the survey period.

Support for Volunteering

It is important that we promote volunteering, and assist the work of volunteers throughout New Zealand. That¡¦s why in this year¡¦s Budget the Government approved a $31.3 million funding package to support the work of the community and voluntary sector.

This included a $15.2million increase for community, iwi and Maori providers funded by Child, Youth and Family. These providers deliver such essential community-based services as sexual abuse and family violence counselling and home parenting skills. The funding will be used on a case by case basis to address pressures and in some way compensate providers for years of static funding. I hope to be able to announce the funding distribution in the next few weeks.

The Budget package also saw $2.19 million over the next four years invested in direct support for volunteering. This funding will contribute towards the work of many of the established volunteer centres around the country and enable a Volunteering New Zealand network to be established.

Budget funding has also been provided for a project to investigate any barriers to volunteering in legislation and government policy and practice.

We are serious about building on the New Zealand tradition of generosity and philanthropy. That commitment goes further than simply supporting and applauding the work of volunteers. It is matched by a commitment to repair the relationship between Government agencies and the community sector.

Community and Voluntary Sector Working Party

When the Labour / Alliance Government came to power in late 1999, we recognised that the community / voluntary sector was under great strain.

We heard a strong message that the ¡¥relationship¡¦ with Government was in an appalling state. We knew this required urgent attention and established the Community and Voluntary Sector portfolio and a sector based Working Party to see what could be done to repair the relationship.

The Working Party listened to what the community said and identified five areas for action:
„h Building a stronger relationship between iwi and the Crown
„h Including iwi and community organisations more in the policy and decision-making process and developing a more participatory style of government
„h A desire to streamline government funding and accountability arrangements, and in particular to address the rigid contracting model that had developed during the 1990¡¦s
„h The need to strengthen the community sector
„h And a concern that public sector officials currently lack understanding of community and iwi organisations.

Government response

So what has been the government¡¦s response?

In short, our response is that we largely agree with the Working Party¡¦s recommendations and will act on them. In fact, we are already making progress in a number of areas.

I¡¦d like to give you a tangible example, which I think reflects the possibilities that are opening up.

In the far north we have been working for some time with the Te Rarawa iwi to forge new partnerships. This involves over twenty government agencies, the district council, regional council and the district health board working with Te Rarawa.

The aim is to form a memorandum of understanding that sets out how government departments will work in partnership with the iwi to achieve shared objectives in areas such as economic development and employment, education, health, social services, housing and justice.

Like the best partnerships this is a long term arrangement. Te Rarawa, like many other iwi and like many community organisations that managed to survive the 1990¡¦s, has a limited infrastructure. So first we need to build up the infrastructure, so that in time we can shift from development to delivery.

The initiative
„h focuses on the iwi¡¦s own vision and the achievements of its goals;
„h services for iwi will be delivered by iwi;
„h it is based on and will strengthen collaboration; and,
„h it will lead to a consolidation of resources from Government under fewer or perhaps a single contract.

And Iwi resources will be brought to bear. For example, the iwi is examining how greater value can be achieved utilising multiply owned land, and how new ventures such as fisheries can be used to assist in achieving the overarching goals.

I¡¦m excited by the possibilities that such partnerships bring. Not only with iwi but with communities.

The Stronger Communities Action Funds we have developed follow a similar approach, allowing local communities to make decisions about needs and about how resources are used to meet those needs.

The work of the original working party has formed a great base from which to move forward. And I am delighted that Dorothy Wilson has offered her leadership to the next stage as we address the concerns raised by the sector.

Alongside work with iwi, the next phase of work will include:
„h the development of a clear government statement of intent which will set out governments part in building a healthy relationship with the voluntary sector;
„h the development of better participatory processes in policy formation;
„h improvements to funding and accountability arrangements; and,
„h further measures to strengthen the community sector.

As a Government we agree that improving the way state agencies work with the voluntary sector is something that must be addressed. The basic message to government agencies here is that people and community groups are to be treated with respect, dignity and compassion.

Bringing Fairness Back

Dignity and compassion is a good way to sum up the changes we have been making since the election and are now reinforcing through the establishment of the Ministry of Social Development.

Since the election some 132,000 people living in State Houses have benefited from income related rents. On average a tenant household previously receiving the accommodation supplement is $44.26 better off on an income related rent. This is a not insubstantial gain.

However, we also know that families have built up large debts over the last decade as they struggled to cope. And part of this debt mountain relates to the Department of Work and Income.

Benefit debt recovery rates were a real and pressing issue for many families ¡V and one we have addressed in our work with beneficiary advocates.

All existing debts where the recovery rate was over $40 a week were reviewed ¡V this led to some significant reductions in repayment rates.

We also instituted new measures to double check when large debts are established ¡V providing greater accuracy and security.

We also removed the standard $5 deduction from Special Benefit, raised the threshold for the community services card, and reversed the previous governments cuts to Superannuation.

Taken together this is a multi million dollar investment in some of the people hardest hit over the last decade.

How employment and income support services work to support people is also a critical factor.

On the income support side our approach focuses on fairness. We want people to be treated fairly and with the dignity they deserve, hence we have produced a service charter setting out the rights and responsibilities of both parties.

A cornerstone is that people should be informed of the support that is available and the Department should accurately assess and deliver benefit entitlements. Initiatives have included working more closely with social service providers, and advocates, and improved information on supplementary assistance.

But this does not mean we want to just passively pay benefits to people ¡V many of whom actually want a job.

With unemployment at a 13 year low ¡V now is the right time to focus our efforts on helping people into sustainable employment.

That means concentrating on ¡¥what works¡¦ ¡V and getting rid of programmes that don¡¦t lead to real employment outcomes.

Among the first things to go was the Community Work scheme. The scheme was a dismal failure. The evaluation conducted by the research arm of the Department of Work and Income demonstrated that Community Work participation was anything but a staircase into a job ¡V in fact it proved that participation had a short term negative effect. People on the scheme were less likely to get a job short term. And even over the long haul Community Work could never pay for itself ¡V the results just weren¡¦t there.

The Community Work programme is an excellent example of the difference between former and present governments.

National liked Community Work because it fitted their thinking. People on benefits were lazy ¡V they needed a tough programme¡V one that, according to Bob Simcock, ¡¥hassled¡¦ beneficiaries.

No matter that it didn¡¦t work. No matter that it led people nowhere. No matter what the research said.

Not good enough.

The Labour Alliance approach is based on a completely different understanding, a different view of the world.

Years of experience has demonstrated that the vast majority of able bodied beneficiaries want to work. They want nothing more than a stable job that pays a living wage and allows them to participate in their community.

Real jobs for real wages, that is the basis of our approach.

When we scrapped the Community Work scheme, National and ACT MPs told everyone who would listen that beneficiary numbers would go through the roof.

I¡¦m still waiting for those people to admit how wrong they were.

Numbers on the unemployment benefit are down over 13,000 on a year ago, that¡¦s nearly a 10 percent reduction in a year.

Of course that also reflects a strong labour market, but nevertheless it proves the lie to the previous governments view of human behaviour and motivation.

The facts are indisputable - people do not want to sit on the dole ¡V they want a decent job.

Ministry of Social Development

That is a key focus for the new Ministry of Social Development. The Ministry will be charged with providing advice to government on the best mix of policy and programmes to assist those who cannot work while providing opportunities for those who can.

Pursuing a social development approach to social policy and services means change. Policies must be based on evidence that they get results if they are to attract and retain funding. That means measuring what we do ¡V hence we are strengthening the social reporting and evaluation capacity of the new Ministry, and developing benchmarks such as the Social Report to measure the social health of the nation.

Research and evaluation is critical because social development means smart investment.

What is already clear is that a key area for that investment is in lifting skills ¡V particularly for people who face difficulty entering the labour market, such as sole parents, and people with disabilities. By lifting their skills we can move them into segments of the labour market where jobs are more stable and wages sustainable. Without this investment the best we can achieve is short term placements where people drift on and off benefit, or a repeat of the American welfare reform experience where people move off benefits but child poverty increases.

Of course, for many people movement into employment is not simply a matter of skills. So our development approach will also focus on policies designed to bridge the gap into work. Childcare, transport, debts, housing, health issues all affect a persons ability to secure a job and then whether taking a job pays. Removing these obstacles is a vital part of any modern social development policy ¡V this is the heart of our ¡¥making work pay¡¦ agenda. Making work pay initiatives were jump started in the last Budget and will receive further attention.

But the Ministry cannot achieve it¡¦s aims alone. As I¡¦ve said, barriers to sustainable work include issues such as health and housing. That is why the Ministry has established a strategic policy capacity, providing advice not only on programmes the Ministry directly delivers but on social development across government. The Ministry does not need to deliver everything, but it does need the capacity to see the big picture, providing policy advice informed by the day to day reality of clients of the income and employment service.

Policy informed by operational reality is a world away from the policy provider split promoted by the last Government.

Their model was based on the notion that relationships are about competition rather than cooperation.

Policy functions needed to be split off so that they would not become too influenced by the people who actually deliver the services. Delivery arms separated from policy 'wonks' would be able to innovate and provide alternative, operationally based, views on critical policy issues.

I think we all saw the results of this model. While some developments were indeed positive, we also saw policy that failed to respond to the real world, and some operational innovations that worked against policy intent.

Long time social policy commentators and advocates such as Charles Waldegrave have warmly welcomed the merger as an opportunity to strengthen the links between policy and delivery. Policy will once again be informed by operational realities and delivery will be driven to deliver policy intent.

I must note that others, including the DCM¡¦s Kevin Hackwell, have expressed concern that one of the things that could be lost in the merging of the two agencies is the ability of the policy group to criticise the delivery arm.

It is a valid concern but one that I am completely comfortable the Chief Executive Peter Hughes can address. Purchasing capacity will be retained, responsible for providing advice on income support and employment delivery as well as the performance of the Child, Youth and Family.

Conclusion

The formation of the new Ministry of Social Policy responds to our commitment to balance economic with social objectives.

The Ministry will play a central role, providing advice, and services that assist New Zealanders to fulfil their potential, whether through the delivery of evidence based income support and employment services; advice on child, youth and family issues; or leading a process to allow communities a greater say in their destiny.

This is a broad and exciting brief and one which will call on the Ministry to develop strong relationships with organisations such as DCM.

I look forward to that relationship developing.

ENDS

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