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Maharey Address: Health of People and Communities

Steve Maharey Address for the launch of The Health of People and Communities


Introduction Thank you to the National Health Committee and the Public Health Advisory Committee for your invitation to join you today.

I’ve been listening with special interest to the comments of Geoff Fougere and Riripeti Haretuku this evening. Many of the thoughts expressed in The Health of People and Communities reflect my own view that good social policy makes for healthy lives.

Restoring balance

Since taking office the Government has attempted to restore the balance to a society ground down by the reforms of the Eighties and Nineties. Our desire to achieve such significant social change dictated the adoption of a new approach: that of social development.

Social development is an ongoing process of improving the wellbeing of the population as a whole, and of disadvantaged groups within it. Social development tilts the balance towards social investment: still providing social protection to those experiencing social disadvantage, but also tackling the causes of that disadvantage.

Strong links

The Health of People and Communities emphasises that health is not a standalone issue. And it draws a strong link between socioeconomic factors and the health of New Zealanders. I have no doubts about this correlation. Over the last few years we have more formally mined this connection to determine the extent of that relationship.

As the Advisory Committee notes, for the last few years the Ministry of Social Development has been documenting the quality of life experienced by New Zealanders in The Social Report.

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In tracking the journey The Social Report provides an effective spring board, highlighting the areas in which our focus is most needed - our Desired Social Outcomes.

From The Social Report we know that people with low incomes, poor housing and few qualifications are likely to have disproportionately poorer health.

And we are responding.

This year’s budget strongly focused on addressing low incomes. Right now the Working for Families policy package is helping low-and-middle income families improve their living standards and have more money to raise their children.

By 2007, Working for Families will deliver 1.1 billion dollars a year to New Zealand families.

Such significant investment is a key strategy in this government’s offensive on child poverty. And based on two internationally recognised income poverty measures, we believe this package has the capacity to reduce child poverty by at least 30 percent - a target I note is included in the Advisory Committee’s recommendations.

Keeping children safe

We believe keeping children safe also improves their health prospects. The Ministry of Social Development is running a number of services to help parents care for and support their children.

The recently launched SKIP– Strategies for Kids-Information for Parents offers support for positive parenting.

And the Family Start and Social Workers in Schools programmes provide early interventions to support families.

The Ministry is also focused on the prevention of violence, abuse and neglect of children and young people.

The Care and Protection Blueprint and Te Rito Family Violence Prevention Strategy are improving the connections between care and protection service providers.


Homes and health

Accommodation is a major factor affecting health and is another area in which this government has been working to reduce the imbalances of the past.

Since 1999 we have added almost 4,000 homes to the state housing pool. And we’re adding another 3,000 over the next three years.

We reintroduced income-related rents for state housing. So low income tenants pay no more that 25 per cent of their total household income in rent.

Also last year, we allocated $63 million to a four-year programme to encourage local government and third sector housing providers to offer more affordable housing.

Access to affordable accommodation is one part of the picture. That the accommodation is healthy is the other.

Healthy Housing is a joint project between Housing New Zealand Corporation and District Health Boards. The programme improves housing conditions to reduce diseases associated with overcrowding. Nearly 450 households, largely in Auckland and Northland, benefited from this programme in the 2003 year.

Improving the heating and ventilation of Housing New Zealand homes through improved energy efficiency measures is also generating a health payback. So far over 8,000 homes have had a complete energy efficiency retrofit. At least 2,100 more a year are planned for the next decade.

Conclusion

This is a brief overview of some of the work undertaken by the agencies in my portfolio. In sharing this I wanted to emphasise the strong commitment of this government to improving socioeconomic factors that impact on health.

I also want to highlight the greater potential for success when agencies pool their resources. Earlier I talked about social development. In practice, social development requires government agencies to work in partnership with each other, and with communities, to find new ways of improving people’s lives. It requires the employment of policies that work in the real rather than theoretical world.

This is an approach we’ve been encouraging in the government sector.

And this approach is emphasised in our social policy summary Opportunity for All New Zealanders. It establishes the Government’s priorities for interagency, cross-sectoral action for social improvement.

I am pleased to see the Advisory Committee recommendations reinforce this approach. I see much synergy between The Health of People and Communities and the direction we’re already taking.

I’m also pleased that the Committee has taken The Social Report’s Desired Social Outcomes as the foundation for whole-of-government progress. In doing so you are leading by example!

Finally, I’d like to thank the Advisory Committee for its work in producing The Health of People and Communities. The report provides a useful framework for encouraging the positive outcomes we desire for all New Zealanders.

Thank you.

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