NZ Productivity Commission identifies flaws in social services

An inquiry by the New Zealand Productivity Commission into social services says tinkering with the current system will not be enough to help disadvantaged New Zealanders.

The Productivity Commission’s report entitled More Effective Social Services looked at ways to improve the effectiveness of social services the Government funds.

According to Commission Chair, Murray Sherwin “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. 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.”

The report identified that while some social services are performing well, a relatively small proportion of people were experiencing consistently poor results across health, education, welfare dependency and crime.

“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 report identifies a need for an adaptive client centered approach to services and highlighted the importance of ‘navigators’ who can engage with affected families to develop a better understanding of their situation.

The Commission recommended the Government “assess and implement an appropriate model with the features required for successfully integrated services targeted at the most disadvantaged.”

The report highlighted Whānau Ora as “an important, but incomplete step towards such a model.”  

Whānau Ora Minister, Te Ururoa Flavell welcomed the findings and recommendations and supports the idea that it may be the services that are hard to reach rather than the whānau.”

Mr Flavell says the report confirms the findings in Understanding Whānau Centred Approaches report released last week “that Whānau Ora holds much potential to improve Māori wellbeing and to make a positive difference to those who need it most”.

The Commission has recommended the Government establish a ‘Ministerial Committee for Social Services Reform’ to take responsibility for leading the Governments reform of the social services system. Focus of the Committee according to the report should be on improving outcomes for the most disadvantaged New Zealanders.