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Spreading economic independence - Steve Maharey

Hon Steve Maharey

28 April 2004 Speech Notes

Spreading economic independence

Comments at the launch of the Ministry of Social Development's Sickness and Invalids' Benefits Strategy and the Manukau concept site. Ellerslie Convention Centre, Auckland.

Introduction

If you're fortunate enough to be a fully-able, healthy New Zealander, you may well take your ability to handle many of life's everyday activities for granted. However, for a rapidly growing number of New Zealanders, these everyday activities represent considerable challenge.

For these New Zealanders, it's not possible to start each day without careful thought about what they want to achieve and what they need to put in place to get there - for even the simplest of tasks.

It is a life that requires more conscious living, something not always recognised by those of us facing fewer challenges.

I'm very pleased to join you all here today as we launch a new strategy that seeks to lessen a few of those challenges; initiatives that will significantly build and enrich who we are as a society today.

The Strategy will take us to a new frontier - territory beyond the traditional limits of central government welfare. Instead of focusing on a client's incapacity, our focus has shifted to a client's potential. Instead of asking "why can't you work?', our questions have turned around to "what work do you want to do?'. And, importantly, "what can we do to help?'.

A vision of inclusion

The government is committed to advancing the well-being of all New Zealanders.

And this is very much a kiwi ethos. New Zealanders have an intrinsic sense of fair play and our development as a country in many ways reflects the desire for opportunity for all.

For many, it is the opportunity to participate in paid work that is the main conduit for achieving improvements in their lives. Certainly paid work is one of the key sources of well-being beyond income. We know it provides a pathway to economic independence and a means of participating in the life of a community.

For these reasons we have sharply focused government policy on helping more working age New Zealanders into stable employment. It is rewarding to now see that the investments we've made are paying off. The programmes developed for long-term unemployed, for sole parents, Maori and Pacific clients, and for mature and youth workers are all showing positive results.

We have seen unemployment drop to a 14-year low of 4.6 percent. And the number of unemployed has declined steadily since the government took office. In just over four years, nearly 70,000 fewer New Zealanders require an Unemployment Benefit.

Jobs Jolt, which I launched last year, is a programme that is further fuelling our efforts. Under the three-year programme we're investing $104 million in a suite of initiatives to help get more New Zealanders working.

And now we're extending our reach. With the development of the Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy we are signalling our commitment to spreading economic opportunity wider.

The Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy

Sickness and Invalid Benefit clients have told us that they want to work; that they want real jobs, with real prospects and pay. And they've told us that they too want to contribute to their communities and work towards better futures.

While Unemployment and Domestic Purposes Benefit clients require relatively short-term assistance before moving onto employment, the same opportunities have not been available in the past to Sickness and Invalids Benefit clients.

This is what we want to change. And this is what the Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy is designed to do.

The Strategy is about ensuring all people are supported to be involved in the economy. It recognises that, in the past, we've too often assumed people receiving the Sickness and Invalids Benefits weren't able to make this contribution.

The Strategy moves us forward by pulling together a range of existing employment initiatives into a single package along with exciting new health and rehabilitation services.

It builds greater employment opportunities for Sickness and Invalid beneficiaries. In doing so we recognise the pathway to achieving employment goals will vary greatly. For this group in particular, individual conditions and barriers to employment are diverse. These clients face very different issues and there are no single, one size fits all answers.

The Strategy is about providing solutions to the difficult and complex issues involved. For some, the goal will be part-time or temporary employment. For others, it will be full-time work.

The approach we'll take identifies each individual's barriers to employment. We'll then address them; whether they have a hearing problem, a disability, a medical condition or a need for surgery.

The Strategy therefore focuses on providing flexible solutions that can be adapted, whatever the individual need.

To build that flexibility the Strategy encompasses research, policy, evaluation and service delivery initiatives.

Currently, our research is focusing on identifying what works and what doesn't - both here and overseas. And we're examining the rules and structure of Sickness and Invalids Benefits.

We're developing Employer-focused Account Management. We want to assist employers to take on people who are Sickness and Invalids Benefit clients. We're working to help employers provide training and work experience. And we're finding ways to support them and make it easier for them to employ people they may not have previously considered.

Complementing this, we're providing Enhanced Case Management for Sickness and Invalids Benefit clients at 14 Jobs Jolt sites around New Zealand. We've seen the rewards we can gain from our experience with Domestic Purpose Benefit clients as case managers have been freed to spend more concentrated time with individual clients.

We've been able to achieve this by nearly halving the number of clients case managers work with in Jobs Jolt sites. Instead of one case manager per 300 clients, each case manager now works with 160 clients. The more intensive interaction allows case managers to focus on clients' individual needs. They're able to ensure clients are accessing all the existing employment products and services while programmes specifically targeted to help them are being developed.

Clients in these Jobs Jolt sites receive added support through access to Jobs Clubs, where, in a group environment, clients are given the opportunity to sharpen their job search, CV preparation and interview skills.

These approaches have broken new ground, and have moved us out of the normal realm of welfare delivery.

The Manukau prototype

And we're about to further break tradition in Manukau. Not only are we launching the Strategy today, we're also launching a prototype of service delivery; a service "laboratory' where we can put our ideas into action as we further develop the Strategy. It's here in Manukau that we've geared up to deliver real results to Sickness and Invalid Benefit clients, right now.

We're running the prototype here for two years, very much as a way to glimpse the future. It's our chance to see how our new service shapes up as the Strategy unfolds.

And this is the ideal place to run a prototype. The staff here are committed and highly skilled. They have excellent working relationships with the region's health, training, employment and support providers. Also, the labour market in this region is strong - we know the jobs are there for people who want them.

So, what will a Manukau Sickness and Invalids Benefit client experience? Firstly they'll receive Enhanced Case Management. Employment, training and support services from the various providers will all be coordinated by the case manager.

- A co-ordinated effort

Such co-ordination relies on strong and effective working relationships. And working relationships are a key element of the Manukau prototype. A designated Work and Income coordinator will work together with Case Managers and a designated District Health Board Coordinator to link health workers, social workers, other government agencies and organisations providing supported employment and living services.

Effective working relationships are also the key to a new service being offered specifically to Sickness and Invalids Benefit clients in the Manukau pilot. These relationships focus on health interventions and rehabilitation.

Clients have often told us that they find themselves trapped on a benefit, unable to use their skills and talents, solely because they are unable to access the health intervention they need. Quite simply, our new service aims to provide that health intervention and rehabilitation.

A broad range of interventions can be accessed under this service: disease management, surgery, pain management, counselling and psychiatric treatment. Always, the bottom line delivery we're targeting is health interventions that will result in the client being work ready.

For example a hairdresser with painful varicose veins could have access to treatment and receive retraining to get into an occupation that does not require standing for long periods of time. A data input worker with Multiple Sclerosis could be supported to re-enter their previous employment through physiotherapy and a gym programme to maintain muscle strength, flexibility and coordination, as well as some retraining.

- The Strategy in action

To put this service into action here in Manukau, Work and Income has entered into agreements with locally based employment support and health providers.

Providing Access to Physical Health Solutions - or PATHS - is a service to be jointly managed by Work and Income and the Counties Manukau District Health Board. PATHS targets clients for whom the barriers to participating in work are their physical incapacities. The service will offer occupational medicine planning, job planning and health interventions, such as, intensive physiotherapy and GP based health education. We plan to help approximately 400 clients over 2 years through PATHS.

This is not a service that will add to the pressure on the Health Board to provide more surgery from existing health resources. No one will miss out, because we're funding this service from an entirely new pool of money.

An arrangement with another provider, the Independent Practitioners' Association ProCare Health Ltd, will see 600 clients over 2 years receive treatment for stress, depression or anxiety-related disorders, where these conditions are preventing them from working.

Selected clients will be included in ProCare's primary mental health service, which includes screening, therapy and psychological support. This service is especially important in light of the rising number of people who are experiencing stress and depression and who are fuelling the increase in client numbers.

The Ministry has also contracted WorkWise Trust to provide employment consultancy services to 135 Sickness and Invalids Benefit clients over 18 months. WorkWise Trust specialises in helping clients with severe mental health problems, such as bi-polar disorder, get real jobs with real pay.

In this third arrangement, WorkWise Trust will support clients by negotiating their employment contracts, attending interviews with them and, if needed, will work alongside them.

The Manukau pilot will also focus on improving clients' access to employment. We're dedicating a Work Broker to the task of promoting Sickness and Invalids Benefit clients to employers. This task will include ensuring clients are using the full range of employment products and services that will help them get into, and remain in, employment. Clients also have access to Careers Services who are providing clients with job planning sessions. The reports from these sessions are then used to identify appropriate job choices.

Clients will also have access to Careers Services who will provide them with job planning which will then be used to identify job choices that suit them.

And job seekers with disabilities who are near work-readiness will have the opportunity to take part in Job Clubs, the initiative provided by Workbridge, to arm them with the resources and support to find employment

These will be supported by a dedicated Work Broker which is a first step towards realising the Employer-focused Account Management that we're developing in the wider Strategy.

The impetus for change

But why do we need a specific Sickness and Invalids Benefits Strategy?

There is evidence of a rising number of people needing the support that a Sickness or Invalids Benefit provides.

This issue is not peculiar to New Zealand. International trends suggest the rising numbers will increase further if we stick with the status quo.

Just in the last 10 years alone, the number of clients receiving an Invalids Benefit doubled, increasing from 35,000 in June 1993 to 71,000 in March 2004. Over the same time, the number of clients on the Sickness Benefit rose by a third - from 29,000 to 42,000.

Our modern way of life seems, at least in part, to be driving this increase. We're seeing a rising rate of mental health-related illness such as stress and depression. And muscular skeletal conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis are also on the increase. In this technological age, improved diagnostic techniques are also seeing greater numbers of people diagnosed with ill health and disability.

The reasons for people being on these benefits are genuine. No question. But it can become a trap, with people losing sight of a way out.

The Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy will ensure we can offer these clients a clear pathway towards greater independence and participation.

And what we're doing her is in the international spotlight. With the increase of people requiring ill health and disability support, administrations worldwide are seeking initiatives that deliver real solutions.

The Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy is our attempt to deliver those real solutions.

We're looking to make an upfront investment for a long-term reward. If a client is going to require $60,000 of benefits over the next few years for want of a $3000 intervention that would see them in employment, I'd rather make that investment now.

We're optimistic, that such investments will produce a genuine win-win for this country.

We're at a time of low unemployment, where employers are having difficulty accessing labour.

The work under the Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy will ease that difficulty by opening up a new stream of skilled workers. At the same time, our investment will provide these clients with the greater independence and sense of contribution that comes from participating in the workforce.

There are of course other prescriptions. Other parties are in the political marketplace offering solutions like time-limited benefits and compulsory work-for-the-dole schemes.

This government rejects those simplistic ideas because they would fail to deal with the actual barriers that some New Zealanders face to participation in the workforce.

A blueprint for the future

As the work here in Manukau unfolds, the Strategy team will be monitoring and evaluating the results to refine the Strategy as it is extended elsewhere in New Zealand. Expanding this approach to different parts of the country will begin in October of this year.

This is an exciting opportunity to determine what works and what doesn't work for this client group; about how government can continue to invest to achieve the best outcomes.

Investing in working individually with clients to identify and address their barriers to employment holds great promise. It also tangibly affirms our commitment to realise a genuinely inclusive New Zealand society, something envisioned by the New Zealand Disability Strategy, which we introduced in April 2001.

Objective four of the Disability Strategy motivates us to provide opportunities in employment and economic development for people with disabilities. This is a motivation embraced by the Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy as it sets out a practical pathway to achieve that objective.

This work also fosters a greater awareness of, and responsiveness to, people with disabilities within the public service, which is Objective six of the Disability Strategy.

Importantly, we've not developed the Sickness and Invalids Benefit Strategy in isolation. We've consulted widely as we've developed it and we're continuing to receive input from clients and advocacy groups.

This will continue. We've established a client focus group to provide us with ongoing feedback as we further develop and implement the Strategy. We'll also regularly brief the sector so that it can share in the process of monitoring the Strategy and have input to its refinement.

Conclusion

The initiatives launched here today aim to break down the barriers preventing people with illness and disabilities from participating fully in society. It is also a step towards changing our perceptions of people with illness and disabilities, so that we recognise the genuine and valuable contribution they can make in the workforce.

I'd like to encourage those of you here today who will be working to make these plans a reality.

But more than that, I'd like you to think on the Strategy, to offer ideas, to debate what we're planning. If anyone has better ideas than those we're presenting today - ideas that deliver real on the ground solutions, we'd like to hear them. It's through robust discussion and debate that we can shape a better future for Sickness and Invalids Benefit clients.

I am confident that our success will not only improve the quality of life for New Zealanders who face the challenges of illness and disability; but as a result, will enrich us all as we enjoy the increased breadth of contributions of a more inclusive nation.

ENDS


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