Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Don't like the evidence? Ignore it

I am currently attending and speaking at another two day conference. This one is a privately organised affair reviewing welfare and social policy. My subject was the US welfare reforms and what can NZ learn from them. I will put up a link to it when available.

You may have noticed that three of the most popular buzz words in the public sector today are "evidence-based policy". That seems well and good. Except when people don't like the evidence, they ignore it anyway. They get stuck on the exceptions, or as Roger Kerr would put it, the "outliers" instead of considering the broad results.

This piece from today's Melbourne Age while not a stunning example, highlights this tendency.

THE biggest welfare reform in decades will become law as soon as today, expanding income management to disadvantaged groups across the country.

The federal government released a survey of its own workers yesterday, supporting the controversial measure about to be widened. Welfare quarantining was introduced as a part of the Northern Territory intervention into remote indigenous communities three years ago.

''Nearly 60 per cent of government business managers working in Northern Territory indigenous communities report that views towards income management have shifted favourably since June 2008,'' Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said of the survey. ''The majority of people believe that the [intervention] has had a positive impact on community awareness of nutrition, health, child abuse, education and drug and alcohol-related violence...

...Income quarantining restricts a portion of welfare to spending on essentials such as food and clothing, and bans items such as alcohol and pornography.

Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) chief executive Clare Martin is yet to be convinced that the intervention is working.

''We've got no evidence,'' Ms Martin said. ''The Prime Minister says he is one for evidence-based policies and this is not. I'd call it anecdotal.''

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