Maharey : Address - Social Development Symposium
29 November 2004 Speech Notes
Social policy and a strong, prosperous New Zealand
Hon Steve Maharey :Closing address to the Social Development Symposium
Good afternoon everyone. Many thanks to you all for your valuable participation in this Social Development Symposium.
I want to thank my colleague, Dr Michael Cullen, for opening this afternoon’s Symposium with his very cogent synopsis of the relationship between social and economic development.
Many thanks to Dr Andrew Ladley, Director of the Institute of Policy Studies at Victoria University, for his skilful chairing of today’s proceedings. And many thanks, once again, to presenter Dr Raymond Torres, Head of the Employment Analysis and Policy Division at the OECD in Paris.
During his brief visit here, Dr Torres has given invaluable time and energy to today’s Symposium, to last week’s Social Policy Research and Evaluation Conference, and to discussions with myself, my Cabinet colleagues, and the Prime Minister.
And finally, many thanks to the Ministry of Social Development for organising today’s Symposium – an event that has fully reinforced, if any reinforcement were needed, the vital contribution social policy makes to economic growth and development.
The interdependence of social and economic development
Just as economic growth is important to achieving and sustaining good social outcomes, human and social capital are also vital to sustainable economic development.
A framework for the Government’s activity
When the Labour Government took office in 1999, we inherited a social and economic landscape very different to the one we inhabit today.
We embarked on a journey to rebuild social and economic opportunity and security. In doing so, we were guided by the knowledge that social and economic development are inextricably linked, and that both must take place within a sustainable development framework.
Sustainable development requires us to integrate the economic, social, cultural, and environmental dimensions of well-being. It requires us to consider the long-term implications of decisions, and to work in partnership across and outside government.
The Growth and Innovation Framework is our co-ordinating framework for sustainable economic development. Its social counterpart, to be released later this month, is Opportunity for All New Zealanders.
Opportunities for All New Zealanders responds to the findings of the Social Report, the annual report that shows how New Zealanders are doing across domains of well-being like health, education, employment, and income.
The Social Report shows us where New Zealanders are doing well, and helps us to identify where the Government needs to target its social investment.
An understanding of New Zealand’s current performance and a focus on evidence-based solutions form the basis of our social development approach. They guide the development of our policies and initiatives that contribute to social well-being, and consequently to economic growth.
Policies, for example, that promote employment and work/life balance, that provide affordable housing and health care, and that support safer communities.
One of the most demonstrable links between social and economic development is in the area of employment.
The Government’s achievements in getting more New Zealanders working reduces the need for social protection, both today and for future generations.
At the end of October this year, registered unemployment stood at around 65,000 – over twenty-six thousand lower than a year ago. Since 1999 the number of people needing an Unemployment Benefit has dropped by 81,000 – or over 55 percent. New Zealand today has the second-lowest unemployment rate in the OECD, at 3.8%.
With economic growth of twice the OECD average for the March 2004 quarter, our challenge today is not to find enough jobs for the workers. Our challenge is to ensure that New Zealanders have the skills and the capabilities that will enable business to thrive and that will determine our success in the globalised world of the 21st century.
The Jobs Jolt package introduced last year provides a raft of targeted initiatives aimed at helping groups traditionally disadvantaged in the labour market, such as mature workers, sole parents, and people living in remote areas, into employment.
Job Partnerships with Industry are a highly successful part of this package. The Government has signed six Job Partnerships so far, with the hospitality, retail, transport, plumbing, roading and bus and coach industries, and another to be signed later today with the meat industry.
The partnerships involve industries identifying the current and future skills they need, and Work and Income providing selected Job Seekers for the appropriate training.
Supporting people into work requires us to ensure that work pays and that financial barriers to employment, such as childcare costs, don’t prevent people from working. The Working for Families package in Budget 2004 ensures that parents who work are always better off than when receiving a benefit.
Almost 300,000 low-and-middle-income New Zealand families will get more money in their pockets as a result of Working for Families. The package includes substantial increases in Family Support, a new In-Work Payment for working parents, and significant increases to childcare and accommodation assistance. More streamlined and generous thresholds will make more families entitled to assistance.
Improving achievement in education and training is vital to building New Zealand’s productivity, addressing current and future skill shortages and improving economic growth. We are investing heavily in a range of work-based training initiatives.
Nearly 127,000 New Zealanders were in industry training last year - 20,000 more than the year before. Our goal, shared with the Mayor’s Taskforce for Jobs, is that by 2007 every 15 to 19 year-old will be in appropriate education, training, or work.
We have committed $128 million over the next four years to the Modern Apprenticeships programme, designed to increase the participation of young people in formal industry training. At 30 June this year, 6,874 Modern Apprentices were participating in workplace learning towards national qualifications. This number will increase to 8,500 by June 2005.
The Gateway programme integrates structured workplace learning with classroom based learning for senior students. It has a proven record of helping Year 11-13 students into further education or moving them into employment. Gateway is already in decile 1 – 5 schools and will be extended to all decile 6 schools by 2008.
Budget 2004 also included funding for 14 pilot Youth Transitions Services around New Zealand. A lead provider in each Youth Transitions Service will work with employers, training providers, and schools to support young people who are at risk of missing out on work, training, or further education after they leave school.
Lifting economic growth will also require attention to the work of our Tertiary Education Sector. The Tertiary Education Strategy moves us forward towards ensuring that teaching and research are aligned with New Zealand’s knowledge and skill requirements.
Families and communities
The well-being of families is a big focus for this Government. Policies that help build strong, connected families and communities create a solid bedrock for a resourceful and adaptable population.
Working for Families will go a long way towards improving living standards for low-and-middle income families and ensuring families have the resources to meet the challenges of daily life. 2004 also saw the launch of the Families Commission, an independent agency that will advocate for and promote better understanding of families in all their diverse forms.
The new Family and Community Services group in the Ministry of Social Development has been established to strengthen and co-ordinate services for families – including implementation of Te Rito, the New Zealand Family Violence Strategy.
Early intervention for children and young people at risk is a key part of the Youth Offending Strategy, which focuses policy and co-ordinates delivery of youth justice services. The justice, health, education, and care and protection sectors work together to provide comprehensive and intensive interventions to young people at early stages of offending, and also to serious, recidivist young offenders.
To make housing more affordable for families and low-income earners, the Government has reintroduced income-related rents and needs-based allocation for Housing New Zealand Corporation Tenants. Our inter-agency Rural Housing and Urban Renewal Programmes are addressing sub-standard housing and related problems.
The Government will build an additional 3,000 state houses over the next three years, while the new mortgage insurance scheme is making it easier for low-and-middle income earners to buy their own homes.
The Primary Health Care Strategy takes a population-based approach to health, targeting planning and resources toward providing effective, affordable and accessible health services to our communities.
As part of the Strategy, Primary Health Organisations are ensuring that New Zealanders with high health needs have access to affordable, quality primary health care. The first two PHOs were established in July 2002; a little over two years later, we now have 77 PHOs, with some 90 per cent of New Zealanders enrolled in them.
We have already lowered the cost of access to health care for people aged under 18 and over 65 who are enrolled with a PHO; next year, we will add young people aged 18-24, and by July 2007 all New Zealanders will be eligible.
Building a strong, secure, connected society with wide opportunities in a thriving economy is an ongoing journey. There is always more to do. Events like today’s Symposium are vital for keeping us focused on our vision of a thriving and dynamic nation, socially and economically. Our challenge from here is to ensure that the depth and quality of ideas we have heard this afternoon does not dissipate.
We must keep the debate alive, keep communication open, keep seizing opportunities to expand the intellectual base from which we can build the nation that New Zealand has every potential to be.