In his ‘state of the nation’ speech Bill English explained how his ‘social investment’ approach was used to justify an increase in police numbers and resources.
As a politician and a member of the community I’ve seen lives turned around by quiet heroism in our families, schools and public services. I’ve also seen lives blighted by poor public services, bad decisions, neglect and bureaucratic inertia.
What this demonstrates is that good intentions do not, on their own, guarantee success. If all our social problems could be solved by throwing money at them, then we would have no more social problems because we’ve been throwing money at them for a long time.
What makes a difference to people’s lives is effective support. Until recently, identifying what genuinely helps people has been somewhat hit and miss, but today we’re able to analyse data in ways that didn’t exist a few years ago.
That analysis demonstrates the lifelong benefits of intervening early to help people in need and the lifelong costs of not doing so.
Some New Zealanders need ongoing support to help them lead a decent life. But there are many more who will benefit from smart, light-handed support. And then, they will move on.
Our goal is to help them do so.
Spending more public money is not, in itself, an achievement.
Real achievement is reducing welfare dependency, getting better results for our kids at school, preventing rheumatic fever, and reducing waiting times at hospital emergency departments.
We call our new approach social investment and it’s showing promising results in several areas, but the recent rise in the prison population confirms we’ve got more work to do.
That is why we are investing more in police.
This makes sense to me. Spending more taxpayer money in the short term can have longer term benefits, not just for the budget but also for New Zealand society.
A ‘social investment’ approach, which is effectively research based targeted spending, has it’s critics, but I think if it is done right it is hard to argue with.
UPDATE: a Dom Post editorial this morning is more sceptical – Bill English’s mixed bag
There are certainly still questions about “social investment”, including a new sort of technocratic over-confidence it seems to imply. Even English’s own measures need care: he brags about the diminished numbers of people on benefits, for instance, which might be evidence of a successful policy – or a merely punitive one. But it is at the very least an interesting, coherent approach to government spending. He should flesh it out with more convincing policies.
What’s not convincing about spending more on policing to reduce what are substantial financial and social costs of crime?