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The Tide Of Change For Welfare Reaching Our Shores

Friday 25th Jun 1999
Muriel Newman
Media Release -- Social Welfare

Speech Extract To Whangarei Electorate Meeting
7.00pm Friday June 25 1999

The tide of change for welfare that began in the US and swept into Britain with the election of Tony Blair's Labour Government is now reaching our shores.

It is a very positive change that makes us face up to the fact that we cannot just give people a cheque each week and hope that it will solve all their problems. The change is about moving from a one-size-fits-all State hand-out to a strong welfare safety net that works closely with individuals and families to give them a hand up to work and self sufficiency.

It is a long process. We have been unwilling in this country to admit that the welfare system that we have put so much into has not delivered better outcomes for those it is supposed to be helping. To recognise that the system is not working is the first step.

That recognition must also come from the huge industry that has grown up around the welfare system as rolls have continued to grow. We have to step back and take a dispassionate view of the system and identify how it can be improved.

In the US State of Wisconsin, when the highly successful W2 programme was set up, the State faced similar numbers on its welfare rolls as we currently face in New Zealand. The social indicators were on a continual downward slide with unemployment and crime on the rise.

The focus of the W2 programme was moving people into work through training, work based programmes, overcoming the barriers and problems people faced to getting back into the work force and getting the incentives in the system right.

The philosophy underpinning the programme was that the only way out of poverty is through work.

The results are an example of a positive welfare programme that works. Numbers on the US equivalent of the DBP have dropped from 100,000 to just over 8,000 with more intensive help going to those with problems like drug and alcohol addiction.

The turn around has had flow on effects for the State's economy with taxes in Wisconsin now at the lowest rate in 30 years, strong job growth and a growing economy.

The good news for us here in New Zealand is that we are capable of making the same positive change. Figures released this week showing the impact that our social policy has had on the children of this country, with almost a quarter now living in homes without a parent who gets up and goes to work every day, strengthen ACT's call for change.

To make a start we need to look at country's like the US and Britain to see how their programmes work and, most importantly, how they are investing in their people to give them a hand up to work.

ACT has had the courage to lead this debate. To tackle the difficult issues that have needed urgent attention for far too long. New Zealanders are responding and taking up ACT's challenge to add their voices to the call for a strong welfare safety net that provides a hand up, not just a hand out.

We have made a good start. But it is only the beginning. Our real concern must be for the children of this country who are the real victims of welfare dependency. It is time to act now to ensure the problems of the current welfare system aren't transferred to their generation.


For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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