Expert Group announced for ‘overhaul of the welfare system’

An overhaul of the welfare system was included in the Labour-Green confidence and supply agreement:

Fair Society

10. Overhaul the welfare system, ensure access to entitlements, remove excessive sanctions and review Working For Families so that everyone has a standard of living and income that enables them to live in dignity and participate in their communities, and lifts children and their families out of poverty.

‘Overhaul’ sounds like the Government is expecting major change. I think we can assume few if any beneficiaries will be worse off as a result of any changes, so this could be expensive to implement.

One aim in particular is contentious – “remove excessive sanctions”. Some say that removing ‘punishments’ is essential to be fair, while others fear a no questions asked welfare system, effectively providing a choice for some, will increase the number on welfare considerably.

Yesterday the Government announced an expert advisory group.

Expert Group established to provide independent advice on welfare system improvements

Minister for Social Development, Hon Carmel Sepuloni, has today announced the formation of an expert advisory group to support the overhaul of the welfare system.

“This Government is committed to overhauling the welfare system to ensure it is accessible and fair for all New Zealanders,” Carmel Sepuloni said.

“To support the overhaul of the welfare system” sounds like the experts are required to advise an overhaul. What if they decide that tweaks would be better? Are the compelled to support an overhaul?

“The Welfare Expert Advisory Group has been asked to undertake a broad-ranging review of the welfare system. It will deliver advice to the Government on ways to ensure people have an adequate income and standard of living, are treated with respect, can live in dignity, and are able to participate meaningfully in their communities.

A broad-ranging review of the welfare system is a good idea if it is able to recommend anything the Group sees as appropriate.

“Areas that the Welfare Expert Advisory Group has been asked to focus on range from considering the overall purpose of the system, through to specific recommendations on the current obligations and sanctions regime.

“The welfare system touches the lives of New Zealanders from all walks of life. I am pleased that the Welfare Expert Advisory Group members themselves come from a diverse range of backgrounds and experience, including but not limited to Māori, Pacific, disabled, and young people.

“The Welfare Expert Advisory Group will deliver its advice to the Government in February 2019. I am looking forward to receiving the Group’s recommendations.”

Minister Tracey Martin said the working group would be a great support to the much needed overhaul of the welfare system.

“Having a range of experienced perspectives outside of government contributing to the Government’s vision in this sector is crucial to getting it right and delivering better outcomes for New Zealanders.”

The perspectives of the group are largely social orientated. Having people with experience in social services is a good thing, as long as that is balanced with what is practical and within a possible budget. There is no indication whether the group is required to consider budgets and what might be ‘affordable’ reform.

The group with (abbreviated) biographies:

CHAIR – Professor Cynthia (Cindy) Kiro (Ngapuhi, Ngati Kahu, Ngati Hine):

Having focussed on Education for the past five years, Professor Kiro also worked in Public Health and Children’s Advocacy for many years. She has extensive experience working in roles to improve outcomes for the New Zealand population. Professor Cindy Kiro is Director of the Starpath Project and also ‘Te Tumu’ – responsible for Māori/indigenous education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland, where she has worked for the last three years.

Professor Innes Asher…

…is a Paediatrician, with vast experience of children and families interacting with the welfare system, and the broader determinants of well-being of children and families. Professor Asher is a committee member and health spokesperson for the Child Poverty Action Group.

Kay Brereton…

…is an experienced advocate for people within the welfare system. She is currently employed as a senior advocate at the Beneficiaries and Unwaged Workers Trust. She has extensive experience working directly with Work and Income clients assisting them to access their full and correct benefit entitlement, and to access their statutory review and appeal rights.

Dr Huhana Hickey (Ngāti Tahinga, Tainui, Ngai Tai)…

…has a long standing interest in the human rights of people from marginal backgrounds and the consequences of discrimination and social oppression. Dr Hickey currently sits on the NZ Human Rights Review Tribunal and is the Chair of the Auckland Council Disability Strategic Advisory Panel. As the recipient of a main benefit, Dr Hickey brings lived experience of the welfare system.

Professor Tracey McIntosh…

…is the Head of Department for Sociology at the University of Auckland and has conducted extensive research in the field of sociology and Māori and Pacific studies. Professor McIntosh advocates for sociology that supports and reflects issues that concern Māori communities. Professor McIntosh also served as the co-chair of the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty.

Dr Ganesh Nana…

…is currently the Chief Economist at BERL, having joined the company in 1998 as a Senior Economist. Dr Nana’s work is often related to the Māori economy, regional New Zealand and its economic development, and education and workforce training plans and programmes.

Labour have used BERL to cost their campaign policies, so Nana will be familiar with their policies and their financial inclinations. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this.

Phil O’Reilly…

…has developed long-term working relationships at all levels in the business community as a previous Chief Executive of BusinessNZ. He chaired the Green Growth Advisory Group and his membership of public and private advisory boards and committee appointments has spanned academia, research and development, business, labour and social development, and manufacturing and trade.

Robert Reid

…has over 40 years’ experience in trade unions and in community employment development.  Much of Robert’s work has been with disadvantaged groups and has included work with Maori, Pacific Peoples and migrant communities. Mr Reid is currently Honorary President of FIRST Union.

Trevor McGlinchey…

…is currently the Executive Officer for the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services. In 1986 Trevor started the Te Mahi o Waitaki Trust in Oamaru, this kaupapa Māori Trust developed and operated numerous social enterprises and community initiatives. In his community roles Trevor chairs Moeraki Ltd, a marae based charitable company, and Te Ana Whakairo Ltd a social enterprise based on Māori Tourism.

Latayvia Tualasea Tautai

…is a young Pacific leader from Auckland. She is currently a second-year university student, studying on a University of Auckland Pacific Excellence scholarship towards conjoint Law and Arts Degrees, majoring in Pacific Studies and Political Studies. She has lived experience of the welfare system, growing up in a household with her mother receiving main benefits.

Charles Waldegrave…

…is the founder of the Family Centre 1979 and the Family Centre Social Policy Research Unit 1991. Mr. Waldegrave co-leads the New Zealand Poverty Measurement Project. He has led or jointly led research, evaluation, service and teaching contracts with multiple government agencies. He has written many research articles and specialises in social policy regarding youth, ageing people, and poverty, among others.

The challenge will be to advise on what is good reform but presumably without an open chequebook available.

While the Group largely appears to have been selected based on their advocacy for far better systems of providing welfare, there is some risk for the Government.

If the Group makes expensive recommendations the Government may have to prune things back to fit within future budgets with competing pressures from other big budget things like housing, education and health.

I can see no indication of when any reform may be implemented. The Government may try to fit changes in this term, or they may decide to put welfare reform alongside tax reform (another Group is currently working on that) to the electorate for the general election in 2020.