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Bennett: NZ Council of Christian Social Services

Hon Paula Bennett

Minister for Social Development

Minister of Youth Affairs


Thursday 19 April 2012 Speaking points

Address to New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services
Introduction


E nga mana, e nga reo, e te iwi o te motu, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa


It is a pleasure to be here to speak to you all.

I hope you have had a successful conference to date and that you have shared ideas, problems and solutions.

I admire the work you do in our communities. There are moments in my job when I sincerely feel the pull to be working at the grass roots level.

But we all have our roles to play and thank you for the important role you play.

They say that this is the worst time to be speaking to a conference - after lunch, before an audience with full tummies who might nod off.

Personally I always hate the ‘just before lunch’ speech.

People hungrily eye up the lunch buffet and stomachs start growling.

If you’re not careful they start picturing you as a nice plump bit of chicken or a cream bun.

It’s a dangerous place for a speaker to be.

This afternoon I want to talk about who we were, who we are and most importantly about who we want to be as citizens as New Zealanders.

Who were we?

We were a proud nation.

We have stood proud.

We believed in this as the land of hard work, of reward for effort.

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Think of our ancestors.

From Maori who looked after each other and fought for what they believed in.

To our first visitors, who cleared this land and lived off it.

But are we still proud?

We are proud of the All Blacks... when they win. We are proud of our flora and fauna.

But are we proud of each other?

Is our society really as simple as the haves and have nots?

Do we like each other?

Do we have to?

Should we wish for society to always remain how it was?

Personally I think not.

To stand still is to stagnate, so surely we should take the best of what we have known, the best of who we were and look to who we can be… But I digress.

We used to have a benefit system that provided for a few.

We were a nation that saw welfare as a backstop, as something you went on if you hit dire straits.

Many were on Welfare because they were hit alright Welfare was a way out of domestic violence.

It was also for those who were cruelly widowed and there was no such thing as being born into welfare.

But what about today?

In the context of welfare; who are we now?

Now we have 220,000 children living in welfare dependent households.

We have nearly 7,000 babies born to teen mums, most of who will be on a benefit for at least seven of the next 10 years and many for a lifetime.

One third of women currently on the DPB started on the benefit as teen mums. That is more than 30,000 people.

Is this the system we envisaged?

It is not who we were. It is who we are. But is it who we want to be?

I am the Minister of Social Development.

I head up this mammoth beast we call the welfare system and I will not sit back and accept that this is the best we can do by people.

I do not apportion blame.

I think no less of someone on a benefit than I do on any other New Zealander.

In fact I often think more of them because I acknowledge and respect how damned hard a life it can be.

So, I will believe in them, their ability and their contribution.

I will believe in their path out of welfare into a path with opportunity.

I will reform the system.


Welfare reform

Our welfare system is failing many.

Our welfare system is failing sole parents.

When I became Minister, welfare resources were geared towards helping people on Unemployment Benefits find work while ignoring those on DPB.

This meant that a small proportion of the people on benefit received the majority of the support funding.

We have literally had people languishing on DPB for three plus decades without so much as a job interview.

While at the same time an unemployed university graduate, fresh from an O.E, can bounce into Work and Income and leave with several job leads, a place on a C.V writing course and a grant for work clothes.

There’s something wrong with this picture, isn’t there?

I’m not saying that support should be removed for unemployed graduates, far from it, and these services are available for all benefits including DPB.

But the fact is that we spend more on helping an unemployed graduate find a job than we do on someone who is sick, disabled or has a child.

We need to distribute these funds more fairly and we need to back people into more than a lifetime on welfare.

We also need to change expectations.


Benefit changes for those on DPB

Historically the system hasn’t expected sole parents to look for work but legislation is changing this.

The first change for those on DPB is that they will be expected to be available for part time work when their youngest is five and be in full time work when their youngest is 14.

This is fair, especially when you consider that 50 per cent of New Zealand sole parents and 69 per cent of partnered women are already working.

The new system will not punish people who can’t find work. If someone can’t find a job their benefit will not be cut.

We are simply asking people to be available for work and actively out there looking.

They will also get the opportunity to adjust to new circumstances like the birth of a child.

In New Zealand we are lucky to have a welfare system for those who need it.

But under the old system the back to work clock was reset when an additional baby was born to a woman on DPB.

For example; if a woman on benefit had another child when their youngest was 18 they would automatically get another 18 years on benefit.

In some cases that clock has been ticking for over 35 years and counting.

This is not happening in isolation.

Around 29 per cent of those on DPB have had a subsequent child while on benefit.

Relying on a benefit indefinitely is not healthy, especially for children.

As I just mentioned we there are well over 200,000 children living in benefit dependant homes.

Tackling this growing problem has been left in the ‘too hard’ basket for too long.

It is time to make the hard calls.

Yes we will readjust the settings and yes we will expect more people to be ‘work ready’.

But we will also spend more on helping them become employable and provide better services to assist them.

The days of a passive system are over.

And this is just the start.

Further reforms will move sickness beneficiaries onto the Job Seeker Allowance with temporary exemptions from work tests.

They will also transform our system into an investment approach.


Transforming contracting

Part of this working differently relates to the way we work with NGOs.

I suggest you watch the work going on alongside the first tranche of welfare reform, particularly with how we will be contracting with NGOs to provide services to young people.

These contracts will be outcome focused.

An administration fee will be provided upfront but other payments will follow as milestones are reached.

The contract will look very different. It will be about outcomes for young people but it will also be flexible in other areas.

We won’t tell providers how to accomplish these outcomes. They know what does and doesn’t work with young people better than anyone else.

I know I'm not going to tell them what to do. But I’m telling you now I will only pay for real results for young people


Family Start

You have probably already heard about some changes to Family Start.

Family Start is one of MSDs flagship programmes.

It costs about $31 million a year and on average about $5,000 or $6,000 per baby.

I have heard it called the ‘Rolls Royce’ of programmes because it is ‘top of the line’ and worth so much more than any other program.

Family Start has been running for more than 14 years.

As Minister I had to question if it was getting the kind of results that it should be.

After two independent reviews it was ascertained that some Family Start providers were doing a great job, some were doing okay and some were doing a poor job.

But what was alarming was that some were considered to potentially be doing damage.

The next logical question is why?

And of course there were a number of complex reasons.

One of which though was the level of support from MSD.

These providers were more or less being left to it

They were being asked to tick boxes and fill in a ream of nonsense paperwork.

So I spoke directly to providers and pulling no punches, I laid it out straight.

There had to be change and I would spend more time and money supporting that change.

A year later and some changes had been made but not enough.

Again I fronted and told them that although progress had been made, some had not made any changes and more needed to be done.

In fact in that speech I said, “…for some of you this is your second strike. Three strikes and you‘re out."

A few weeks ago Family and Community Services announced that five providers would not have their contracts renewed this year.

This was not done lightly but the families these providers were supporting needed results.

I know that home based visiting can and does work and so I will back it. But results are absolutely paramount.

This process doesn’t end with Family Start and we will be working our way through all of our contracts.

There is over $550 million of contracting for services that MSD does and we are demanding that they all be up to a high standard.

You will see the outline of this programme of work over the upcoming months.

I know what you demand of me as your Minister.

You demand that I provide quality services to those families that need it most and that I do it in partnership with you.

The New Zealand public also demands that I don’t turn a blind eye to substandard practice and that I have the courage to stand up and make the hard calls.

I will make those calls.

I'm so very grateful for this second term as Minister of Social Development and I will not be wasting it.


Green Paper to White Paper and Action Plan

As far as I am concerned on the ground knowledge makes all the difference.

I am not a fan of sitting on high and making dictates.

I like to get amongst it and make change decisions from the ground up.

If you don’t fertilise the soil you can’t expect the tree to blossom and fruit. That was my parable for the day.

As you know the Green Paper for Vulnerable children was a grass roots process.

I personally fronted 17 public Green Paper meetings and there were 68 other discussions held around the country from Kaitaia to Invercargill.

The people of this country of ours impressed me with their passion and innovative ideas.

They had digested the paper, thought critically about what was needed and fed back their thoughts in abundance.

Some ideas were just good old fashioned Kiwi common sense, some were incredibly detailed and some require changes to legislation.

The fruits of this grass roots process were over 9,000 Green Paper submissions.

Themes that have emerged from these submissions and public meetings include the need for greater information sharing, support for parents, monitoring children from birth and mandatory reporting of suspected abuse and neglect.

The Green Paper was an eye opening experience for many New Zealanders and brought many of the social issues and vulnerabilities in our society to the fore.

But the White Paper and Children’s Action Plan, the next steps in this process, are the most important.

I feel that the Green Paper was a success but that this Government’s record, my own record as Minister is tied to what comes next.

We have done a lot in the last few years. Much of it was driven by my ambition to make a difference in the lives of our children and young people.

Some was also driven by the report Mel Smith wrote on his inquiries into the case of the nine year old which I released last December.

But more needs to be done.

The White Paper will set out the work programme in this area and the Action Plan will be the road map to implement it.

The White Paper will be out in the next five months or so and the plan will follow shortly after that.


Conclusion

So who do we want to be?

A society that stands next to each other, that supports those who need a space to learn.

A society that develops and brings out people's potential.

A gutsy, smart little country that thrives and develops.

It’s who we were, who we should have always been and who we will become.

It’s time to make the hard calls.


ENDS


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