Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bennett doesn't mince her words

Paula Bennett addressed the Christian Council of Social Services Conference during the week. You should know that the audience would be hostile to National. The CCSS is left-leaning and their submissions on National's welfare reforms to date have been negative. She said:  

"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."

And then she talked about the recent goings on with some providers, notably the Waipareira Trust headed by John Tamihere:  

"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."

If I may indulge myself for a moment, this time last year I blogged the following after speaking at the select committee hearing regarding the Future Focus reforms:
In brief I urged them to focus their attention where it is needed - young, unskilled, uneducated women entering and remaining in the benefit system for years. I cautioned that the proposed work-testing will not deter this group and could see even more children added to existing benefits as an avoidance tactic.
Returning to Bennett's speech:

"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." 

At the very last sentence in her speech repeats that sentence:  

"It’s time to make the hard calls." 

I truly hope that she isn't thwarted by nay-sayers, second-raters or even her own Ministry.

1 comment:

thor42 said...

*Outstanding stuff* by Bennett!

To paraphrase the ad from a while ago - "that woman deserves a DB".