It helps to be targeted, when the govt sets out to improve the wellbeing of a few vulnerable citizens

The word “targeted” – when the Government brays about its spending decisions – can camouflage a great deal.

In the case of “targeted social support funding for 450 Manawatū-Whanganui whānau“, announced during the week, it camouflages the government’s emphasis on ethnic considerations. 

The statement was issued in the names of Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni and Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare, who said the expansion of an iwi, community and government initiative will improve the wellbeing “of 450 of our most vulnerable Manawatū-Whanganui families”.

But it appears that non-Maori – no matter how desperate their plight or how vulnerable they might be – aren’t too high on the list of the 450 selected to have their wellbeing improved.

This impression was strengthened when the Ministers said:

“The Kāinga Whānau Ora initiative is an Iwi-led programme working with 167 families and whānau living in Housing New Zealand homes in Palmerston North.

“The government is investing $4.6 million over the next two years to expand the initiative to a further 300 whānau in Whanganui and Palmerston North.

“Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni says the funding for expansion demonstrates the Government’s commitment to lifting Māori and Pacific incomes, skills and opportunities.”

The ministers explained that the Kāinga Whānau Ora initiative works to build family and whānau confidence while supporting them to achieve their goals and aspirations.

“It focuses on improving housing, supporting children, boosting skills and employment, reducing reliance on benefits and improving the health of whanau,” Carmel Sepuloni said.

The statement reminds us (lest we had forgotten) of the work of the Social Investment Agency,  launched on 1 July 2017.

The SIA works with agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) “to help them take a life-time view of service users”.  Targeting is among its functions, which are: 

  • Developing the architecture to assist agencies (and others) to apply social investment.
  • Providing advice on investment priorities for government and monitor selected investments over time.
  • Trialling and testing new approaches for targeted populations.
  • Assessing progress and maturity of social investment and its practice across the social sector.

Consistent with this,  the ministerial statement from Sepuloni and Henare said the Social Investment Agency has a key role in providing the lead support to the Kāinga Whanau Ora programme, in particular, assisting with the programmes governance, administration, monitoring, data measurement and collection, evaluation and co-ordination of funding.

Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare says it’s great to see more government agencies supporting communities to take a Whānau Ora approach.

“The Kāinga Whānau Ora initiative allows iwi and multiple government agencies and community organisations to give co-ordinated support to families with complex needs.

“The initiative supports tino rangatiratanga and the mana of whānau by empowering them to self-determine their needs, aspirations and desired outcomes.

“I’m excited to see the Kāinga Whānau Ora initiative increase its reach which will help to improve the lives of many whānau in the region,’ Peeni Henare said.

Work to expand the Kāinga Whānau Ora initiative to Whanganui whānau has already begun.

The Social Investment Agency (SIA) was launched while Bill English was PM. It is responsible for overseeing and coordinating the government’s approach to social investment.

Throughout its two years (and a bit) it has been headed by an acting chief executive, Dorothy Adams.

An interview with her was published in June last year by Newroom, which described it as “the embodiment of one of the previous Government’s key policy planks” and askedso what does it do under a Labour government?”

She said there was a noticeable change of approach under the new government. 

“The previous government had a social investment approach and this Government is forming what they’re calling an ‘investing for social wellbeing approach’,” Adams said. 

“Some tenets are the same, for example really understanding what works in terms of government-funded services and support.”

Then she said the most obvious change could be seen in the refocusing of some of the agency’s priorities. The agency is broadening its focus from highly targeted interventions to broader measures of improving general wellbeing. There is less of a focus on fiscal measurement and much less of an emphasis on big data.

“For whatever reason, the Social Investment Agency did get caught up with being the big data shop and the analytics shop,” she said.

“With this Government and with Minister [Carmel] Sepuloni they’re still interested with big data, but they’re much more interested in all the data sources that are available.”

The SIA Annual Report 2018 (Extract from State Services Commission Annual Report 2018) can be studied here. 

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