Maxim Institute - real issues - 30 November 2006

Published: Fri 1 Dec 2006 10:31 AM
Maxim Institute - real issues - 30 November 2006
Maxim Institute - real issues - No 233 30 November 2006
In his first speech as leader of the National Party, John Key has highlighted long-term welfare dependency as a problem, and has acknowledged that the intangible elements of life, like happiness and strong communities are important. The speech is part of Key's efforts to articulate who he is and what he stands for, something vital for a new leader.
Having experienced a time where his family needed help, Mr Key says that he adheres to the adage "you can measure a society by how it looks after its most vulnerable". He also points out though that "you can measure a society by how many vulnerable people it creates". It is perhaps because of what his family went through that he also realises that the health of the community is related to the health of the family.
In many ways this is the challenge that New Zealand faces in the twenty-first century. New Zealand has a well established safety net for those who hit hard times, but how we help people matters, not just that we do help them. People are holistic beings; they need security and strong social networks, not simply enough money to pay the bills.
The question now is how this picture of concern for the vulnerable, this picture of social justice, will be translated into policy. The kind of leader John Key becomes will only be partially determined by his vision. In politics, a compelling personal story and a strong vision on the first day are only the beginning and New Zealand has far to go if we are to be the kind of country that really does look after its most vulnerable.
Read John Key's speech
The already compelling case for welfare reform in the United Kingdom grew stronger recently, with the ballooning of government dependency continuing, and the release of a new report by the think tank Reform.
Reforming Welfare examines the current state of the British welfare system, showing that while spending on welfare is "colossal", the state of beneficiaries is getting worse, and the poverty trap only deeper. The British government spent £79 billion on welfare during 2005, supporting an estimated 14 percent of the working age population. At the same time, the number of government benefits has ballooned from seven in 1948 to 51 today.
The Times reported recently that under the British equivalent of New Zealand's "Working for Families" scheme, even those in the richest fifth of households are in receipt of government benefits. The paper reported that a third of the scheme's expenditure goes to the richest 50 percent of homes. It appears that more and more people are lining up for help they may not even need.
But although the welfare budget sucks more and more cash from the public purse, it delivers little in return. Reforming Welfare states that outcomes such as inequality and poverty are only getting worse, with many poorer regions worse off than 20 years ago. The report argues that the moral, social and economic consequences of welfare dependency are crippling, tracing the gradual historical shift from local structures aimed at preserving independence to the modern welfare state with its central bureaucracy and endless paperwork.
Setting the debate in much-needed context, the report lays down a tough and important challenge New Zealand cannot ignore. A welfare state which breeds a culture of entitlement is neither sustainable nor wise. As a country, we must do better when it comes to those left behind.
Read the report, Reforming Welfare
Throughout New Zealand, secondary students are in the middle of their NCEA end-of-year examinations. While significant effort has been expended this year to ensure that the variance in the results seen in past years does not occur this time, moves are afoot both in New Zealand and overseas to offer alternative examination systems to the state qualification system.
Two proven alternatives to the NCEA are the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme. Pupils in 44 schools around New Zealand sat one of these alternative examinations in 2005. The numbers look set to grow with Diocesan School in Auckland recently announcing it will offer IB as an alternative in 2008 and other schools, both public and private, investigating the option.
Whilst many schools are offering these alternatives to the NCEA, they have to overcome significant hurdles to do so. One such hurdle is the cost of offering an alternative, which is a barrier especially for poorer schools. The government in the United Kingdom has recently made it easier for public schools to offer alternatives to the state exam system by announcing that it will provide funding for schools to offer the IB as an alternative to the state examination system.
The New Zealand government would do well to heed this example and work to ensure that all schools, not just wealthy ones, can afford to offer an alternative to the NCEA, if the school considers this will best suit their pupils.
Read Maxim Institute's Issue Snapshot on alternatives to NCEA
Read The Parent Factor 1 - Freedom for Schools
The New Zealand Herald has this week reported details of a new study measuring family wellbeing. The study, headed by Professor Peter Davis, has found that the median family income, adjusting for inflation and family size, has remained around $37,000 in the 20 years since 1981. The shift of women into the workforce (from 47 percent in 1981 to 61 percent in 2001) has been cancelled out by men moving into self-employment, part-time employment and onto benefits, the paper said.
The Canadian House of Commons has voted to recognise the province of Quebec as a "nation" within "a united Canada". The motion passed 266-16, part of a plan by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to head off Quebec separatists. Quebec has held two hotly contested and close referenda on remaining within Canada. While many supporters of the motion said it would change nothing, critics claim that the motion is one more step towards the break-up of Canada. Conservative Cabinet Minister, Michael Chong, resigned over the motion, saying: "They [the separatists] will argue that if the Quebecois are a nation within Canada, then they certainly are a nation without Canada."
"Freedom may be the most important prerequisite for the exercise of conscience..."
Michael Joseph Gross
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Maxim Institute's regular email publication, Real Issues, provides thought-provoking analysis of developments in policy and culture in New Zealand and around the world. You can express you views on any of the articles featured in Real Issues by writing a letter to the editor. A selection of the best letters will be posted each week on Maxim Institute's website .

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