Tinkering with the system won’t help the most needy

Published: Tue 15 Sep 2015 12:26 PM
Tinkering with the system won’t help the most needy
Tinkering with the current system will not be enough to help disadvantaged New Zealanders, says the Productivity Commission in its final report on improving outcomes from social services, released today.
"Many New Zealanders interact with the social service system without too much trouble – through their local school or childcare centre, GP or hospital if it’s something more serious.” says Commission Chair, Murray Sherwin. “For these people, the social services system works pretty well.”
“However, there are many others whose needs are not so straightforward, people with multiple problems that are much more complex than the needs of the average New Zealander… depression, drug addiction, family violence, unemployment. This can create disadvantage that persists across generations.”
“These people require many different services, but they find it hard to navigate their way through the current maze of government agencies and processes. For these people it is not enough just to make the current system work better. A new approach is required that puts the needs of people and their families at the centre of decision-making. This will require a shift in thinking and structures.”
“The Commission observed that many social services continue to be funded and run in much the same way over decades, with little evaluation of their impact or cost-effectiveness. We also saw a flow of new initiatives that attracts much media and political attention but has little impact on New Zealand’s most disadvantaged.”
“Part of the rethink involves government understanding that social services are only one of many influences that determine people’s outcomes. Family, friends and community, work and colleagues, and early physical and social experiences play a huge role in the wellbeing of New Zealanders. We need to tap into these influences – their local knowledge and relationships. And where possible empower people to make choices about the services they receive and who they receive them from.”
“To address the needs of New Zealand’s most disadvantaged we recommend giving more responsibility for resources to organisations close to clients. Their job would be to work with clients to help them assemble the package of services they need – taking account of the person’s circumstances, their culture and so on.”
“This is NOT about releasing government from its responsibility for providing services. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is about the government taking its responsibility as system steward seriously, and reshaping the system so that it produces better outcomes. At times this will mean letting go of control while retaining high-level accountability.”
“Early intervention is a central theme of the Commission’s report. The commission believes that better use of data and analytics will help the government target those most in need early – putting a fence at the top of the cliff rather than an ambulance at the bottom.”
The Commission developed 89 findings and 61 recommendations. The report is accompanied by case studies on employment services, Whānau Ora, services for people with disabilities, and home-based support for older people.
The report is available at
About the inquiry
The Government asked the Commission in June 2014 to investigate how to improve outcomes for New Zealanders from social services funded or otherwise supported by government. This includes how agencies identify the needs of people who use the services, how they choose organisations to provide the services, and how the contracts between agencies and organisations work.
Social services include health care, social care, education and training, employment services and community services. They also include the services targeted to those whose health, age, socioeconomic or other circumstances means that they have greater needs than others in society.
The inquiry examined how commissioning and purchasing influence the quality and effectiveness of social services, and suggests ways to improve these practices to achieve better outcomes for New Zealanders.

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