21 Dec 2009

Finance Minister signals welfare spending revamp

6:34 pm on 21 December 2009

The Government intends to make substantial changes next year to the way it spends hundreds of millions on at-risk families.

The Finance Minister has signalled a revamp of welfare spending.

With little extra money available, Bill English says, the Government needs to look at getting greater value out of what it spends already.

The new approach will involve giving community groups more autonomy and changing the way government departments deal with families.

Mr English says that various studies have been done on welfare spending in particular localities and on particular families, and some of those numbers "would make your hair stand on end".

There can be five or six different agencies visiting a family with problems within the space of a few days, he says.

'Whanau ora' policy seen as model

The Maori Party is pushing the whanau ora policy for Maori families, Mr English says, putting them at the centre of determining their own best interest, and the Government wants to see that kind of policy applied across the board.

That means getting frontline community organisations with proven track records of spending wisely to take a greater role in delivering welfare services.

Mr English suggests that the reporting requirements for such organisations could be relaxed, allowing them to be more flexible in tackling problems.

He foresees such changes happening within the next 12 months.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett will not comment on what is being considered, saying ministers are still working through the details of the new policy.

Hand all responsibility over - Dunne

United Future leader Peter Dunne says the Government should hand responsibility for social services to community groups.

Mr Dunne says these groups are much more effective helping at-risk families and the Government should simply pay for their work.

He says it should restrict itself to being the funder of social services, and leave it up to the voluntary sector to provide the services.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples has told Waatea News that the party has wide support among senior government ministers for its whanau ora scheme, which is expected to be introduced early in the new year.

Barnados chief executive Murray Edridge backs the move, saying it's about finding a way to consolidate the activities of both the Government and the community.