Mental health crisis -> 1 working group -> 9 working groups

Before the election Labour said there was a crisis in mental health care.

Once in Government they set up a working group to find out if there was a crisis

400 meetings across New Zealand, 5,000 submissions and a year later the working group handed a 200 page report to the Government, who said it would take a few months to respond.

Now 9 working groups have been set up to respond to the 9 ‘themes’ of the first working group.

RNZ:  Mental health working group replacement criticised

Robyn Shearer, deputy director general of mental health and addiction, said the Mental Health and Addiction Health Sector Leadership Group (HSLG) was put on hold following criticism of its make-up.

“As the ministry has adopted the hub and spoke model, the group will cease in its role.”

The hub and spoke model – which has one central hub, co-ordinated by the Ministry of Health, and nine “spokes” based on key inquiry recommendations – was first proposed in a 14 December email.

The structure was to be co-ordinated by a small co-ordination group, covering lived experience, family-whānau, Māori, Pasifika, NGOs, primary health organisations, and a DHB representative.

“This structure would also include nine working groups, dedicated to responding to each of the Inquiry report’s themes,” acting deputy director general of mental health and addiction Maree Roberts in a December said in an email to stakeholders.

The mental health inquiry hub and spoke model (source: December email to stakeholders from Ministry of Health)

The groups would “be responsible not only for feeding into advice to government, but for providing leadership and advice on implementation of changes and improvements across the health and social system”.

The email reminded readers that the government would formally respond to the inquiry in March 2019 and that the Ministry of Health was working to provide advice.

Ms Shearer, who has recently joined the Ministry of Health, said the leadership group was initially created to help the Ministry interact with key stakeholders.

“It was never intended to be the ministry’s main mechanism for feedback following the Inquiry’s report.

“The group’s primary role in this time was to assist the ministry in planning its engagement approach following the inquiry’s release.”

However, the December email from Ms Roberts outlining the group’s approach showed the it had a significant role in gathering feedback.

The first phase was to seek feedback and inform government.

The email suggested hosting small workshops with the public.

This sounds like repeating the same thing again, albeit fragmented into different groups.

Not surprisingly there have been eyebrows raised.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson raised concerns.

“Part of our feedback was you have to be really clear what it is you’re asking people, otherwise this could look like the inquiry is just carrying on. When do we stop talking and start doing?

“I kind of thought, ‘Well, you know, I did tell you!’ So it didn’t surprise me at all when they said they were going back to the drawing board.”

It did not adequately represent Māori and people who lived with mental health, he said.

Mr Robinson said the ministry made a few mistakes in the first steps because they “literally did not have the people”.

There was also confusion among those in the mental health sector about why the government needed to seek more answers when that was the whole purpose of the inquiry.

“But there are some pretty significant and far-reaching changes suggested in the inquiry report. If you want to really make those happen, you have to be quite careful.”

one thing the need to be careful about is spending too much time and money working in groups and inquiring,

 

Small minority to make crucual decisions on ‘fair pay’ agreements

Fair Pay Agreements “would set minimum standards to lift wages and conditions across an industry or occupation”, but could be initiated by a small minority of workers – just 10%, or less (1,000 workers). Is that fair? A minority in, say Auckland, could effectively end up imposing ‘fair pay’ across an industry across the country.

This is what the Fair Pay Agreement Working Group has recommended. The Government will now consider what they do – this may not be straight forward, with Labour and Greens requiring the support of another minority, NZ First.

Heather du Plessis Allan: Time to fast-forward to the past

Business is collectively losing its mind over the working group’s recommendations. It’s calling it a return to the national awards of the 1970s.

Business hates that the negotiations can be triggered by as little 10 per cent of the industry’s workforce. Business hates that the contract agreements would be compulsory for all employers in that industry. Business hates paying employees more than it has to.

Business has a few fair points. We can’t expect the cafe owner in Balclutha to pay staff exactly the same wage as the Auckland cafe owner making a killing thanks to the money and foot traffic a city delivers. There should be concessions to regional variance.

These recommendations probably won’t all be accepted by the Government. Labour’s coalition partner New Zealand First might challenge many of them, if not all. Winston Peters’ party has already temporarily pulled its support on Labour’s employment law once before.

So it is far from a done deal at this stage.

But, the motivation behind these recommendations is on the money. Kiwis are underpaid.

That’s debatable. In the private sector we are generally paid what companies can afford to pay and stay in business.

Audrey Young:  Coalition Government lining up smorgasbord of targets for National

The same goes for the fair pay agreements outlined in the Jim Bolger report delivered to the Government this week.

But given New Zealand First’s track record in diluting union-backed legislation, it is hard to imagine the party agreeing to a trigger as low as 10 per cent for workers to force employers to the table for compulsory sector-wide bargaining.

The trouble is that the higher the trigger goes, the less happy the unions will be. A true compromise may result in deeply unhappy unions and employers.

Dominion Post editorial: Why back to the future on pay might not work

Many of this country’s lowest paid and most vulnerable workers have every right to look back in anger at the steady, inexorable fall in the value of their wages, the undermining of working conditions and the perceived out-of-proportion rewards for their employers and many others in the business community.

Bolger’s group was assembled to address such inequities, and its report released this week suggests we go back to the future.

It recommends the creation of fair-pay agreements, a new version of the old collective bargaining that critics have labelled as “compulsory unionism by stealth”.

There is some sympathy for that argument because the proposal, if adopted, would mean that an entire industry would have to negotiate new minimum pay and working conditions if just 10 per cent or 1000 workers in that industry, whichever is fewer, asked for it.

That creates the potential for major upheaval in businesses that have long moved on from the days of compulsory unionism and the environment that went with it.

The reforms are targeted at the country’s low-paid and most exploited workers.

But there is still the potential for major uncertainty, confusion and disruption for everyone within the complicated ecosystem that is our national economy.

For many, the amount they are paid remains the main measure of their perceived value, from the employer and within society. Work conditions are important, but pay is so often the principal point of anger and agitation.

If employers followed a number of local bodies and now Westpac bank in taking on a living wage for their employees, it would go a long way towards quelling that anger, and possibly even lift productivity.

But local bodies can just put up rates to pay for bigger wage bills. Ratepayers have to pay. If companies put up prices customers can choose not to pay.

This too, of course, is a blunt tool, and would not come without cost. But in conjunction with sensible legislation to protect workers’ rights and conditions, as happened when zero-hour contracts were deemed illegal, it could address many concerns without creating widespread disruption and a threat to the economy.

This working group is right to address inequities on behalf of the country’s workers, but it should be careful not to throw out the businesses with the bathwater.

A minority in Government, NZ First, look to be the deciding factor in whether a minority of workers could enable (or force) ‘fair pay’ on a whole industry, which could put a larger number of workers and their jobs at risk.

Another point  – Labour may think it was a master stroke recruiting ex-National MP Jim Bolger to head the Working Group, but why an ageing retired politician? One who is a long way from knowing what ordinary workers feel and experience. Surely there are younger people around who may have a better appreciation of work in the modern world.

Government blurb on the Working Group report:

National target Government over committee can kicking

The National opposition has increased criticism on the Government over the many working groups, reviews, inquiries and committees they have set up. Labour has tried to play down the assistance they have sought.

The big news from Jacinda Ardern’s business confidence speech yesterday was the announcement of the setting up of a ‘business advisory council’. A chairman only has been announced so far.

This was a day after National launched this Twitter campaign:

Simon Bridges reacted to the Business Advisory Council announcement:

This means a third of the economic announcements so far from this Govt are working groups.

That brings the total number of working groups set up by this Govt on business issues to 10 & counting. This gives businesses no certainty.

I think the PM needs a new rubber stamp. The “set up a committee” one is wearing out.

The Government have a problem reacting to this, as the results of the many committees will not be known for months or years.

The Opposition campaign has been running for months.

The bill for the Government’s constant outsourcing of its job to 152 working groups and reviews has reached $170 million so far, with a third still to be costed, National Leader Simon Bridges says.

What’s worse is the Government doesn’t know the cost of over a third of the 152 working groups and reviews announced to date.

“This is a Government caught badly unprepared and New Zealanders are now paying an exorbitant price. And now we know Ministers are ordering reviews and setting up groups without even knowing what they will cost, while the reviews are coming back with recommendations for more reviews.

The Government has sometimes responded.

I saw Ardern disputing National’s numbers last week but can’t find coverage of that.

Every Government sets up external groups too help them research and set policies and to investigate issues of concern. When National took over Government in 2008 they used a lot of committees etc.

But it does seem that there have been a lot announced since the Labour led Government took over last year, and national will no doubt keep highlighting any new ones.

The Government will have to get some tangible outcomes, but that may be some time off yet.

One of their major reviews is on the tax system, but whatever that recommends Labour has committed to make no tax changes this term.

The Government is at risk of being seen as synonymous with committee can kicking down the road. Until they start getting tangible outcomes from all these advisory groups and reviews the Opposition are likely to keep hammering away.

Difficult to deal with huge increase in prisoner numbers

Politicians have been pandering to populist pleas for getting tough on criminals for decades, but they now face some hard decisions after the prison population has surged.

Our prisons can’t cope with the record number of prisoners, now about 10,500, and there don’t appear to be any easy or quick fixes.

Meanwhile the Government keeps delaying a decision on building a new prison, and has set up yet another working group to kick the can down the road.

Stuff: Make-shift cells in the gym, stretchers in the hallway – a broken prison system

In early May, there were 10,570 prisoners in the system; a number that fluctuates on a daily basis, due to arrests, court decisions and releases.

The population rose above 10,000 for the first time in 2016, and has continued to climb since then. It has risen more than 20 per cent since 2015.

A big part of the problem is a near doubling of the number of remand prisoners over the last five years. From 2009-2013 remand numbers ranged from 1,555-1,925, but there are now over 3,000.

While significant that is only a part of the problem. The prison population has nearly doubled over the past twenty years.

There are no easy answers.

Stuff: Govt stuck between a rock and a hard place on law and order

The Labour-led Government is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to its big promises on law and order reform.

The Labour-led Government has promised to reduce the prison population by 30 per cent in 15 years, something Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says will take the full 15 years.

But with an almost static crime rate, that means changing the laws that have led to the spike in prisoner numbers.

An overhaul of the justice system is unlikely to be popular political move. The last thing any Government wants is to look soft on crime.

The Opposition has been applying pressure on this. Like:

It’s understood the Government plans to establish another working group, and hold a summit later in the year, ahead of announcing any major legislative changes.

Yet another working group. They will need to decide on whether to proceed with a new prison at Waikeria long before that reports back.

The Government can tinker around the edges when it comes to providing things like transitional housing for people due for parole with no place to go, but that will only slightly lighten the load on prisons.

To deliver on its promise of 30 per cent fewer prisoners, and to be the truly “transitional Government” it says it will be, bail laws, parole laws, and sentencing are all under scrutiny. But this gives its National opposition ammunition when it comes to its “soft of crime” attacks.

The Labour-led Government will either have to find a way to weather those attacks and get its coalition partners onside, or accept an out-of-control muster, and build the mega-prison none of them want.

Numbers will keep rising while the Government fiddles.

 

Welfare overhaul announcement ‘imminent’

Jacinda Ardern has said that an announcement on aims to overhaul welfare delivery is ‘imminent’, but it will rely on yet another working group so any decisions are likely to be quite a way down the track.

Some (Greens especially) have proposed a much more generous ‘no questions asked’ welfare payment system.

The Labour-Green confidence and supply agreement stated:

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.

That is toned down from what Metiria Turei promoted before crashing during last year’s election campaign, in a policy labelled ‘Mending the Safety Net’:

We will:

  • Increase all core benefits by 20 percent
  • Increase the amount people can earn before their benefit is cut
  • Increase the value of Working For Families for all families
  • Create a Working For Families Children’s Credit of $72 a week
  • Remove financial penalties and excessive sanctions for people receiving benefits
  • Reduce the bottom tax rate from 10.5 percent to 9 percent on income under $14,000
  • Introduce a new top tax rate of 40 percent on income over $150,000 per year.
  • Raise the minimum wage to $17.75 in the first year and keep raising it until it’s 66 percent of the average wage.

Our welfare system should provide effective support for people who need it, while they need it. The social safety net should stop families from falling into poverty and guarantee a basic, liveable income. That’s what it means to live in a decent, compassionate society.

Punishing people through benefit sanctions, cuts, and investigations has not worked. Rather than giving people ‘incentives’, it traps them in a cycle of poverty and puts children’s wellbeing at risk. Children suffer when the welfare system punishes their parents, and in the long term, so does society. It is never ok for the government to use poverty or the threat of poverty as a weapon.

The Green Party’s plan will ensure the people on the highest incomes pay their fair share and those that need help are treated with respect and dignity.

That last paragraph looks like code for a major redistribution – one could wonder if it aims at ‘fair share’ being equal share, no matter what work one does or doesn’t do.

Stuff: Welfare overhaul working group details leak out online

Details of the “imminent” Government overhaul of the welfare system have emerged in online job listings.

The job listings show the Government is setting up a welfare overhaul “expert advisory group” supported by a secretariat of officials from different departments.

The listings for a project manager and strategic communications advisor were posted in March of this year on the Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD) website.

In the job description MSD write “the Government has committed, through the Labour/Greens Confidence and Supply Agreement, to overhaul the Welfare System. This work will be led by an independent group of Experts, supported by a Secretariat of officials from MSD, the Treasury and Inland Revenue.”

The listings have emerged as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said an announcement on the welfare overhaul is “imminent”.

Ardern has made clear that some sanctions would remain after the overhaul.

She said a culture change was needed at Work and Income, but acknowledged that “by and large” case managers did a good job.

“Culture change is difficult. We are coming in after nine years of there being an expectation that there be a singular focus on reducing benefit numbers and of course we want people in work, we want people who are seeking work to be able to find work, but I think it has tipped over into a space where it actually denying people who need help the help they need,” Ardern said.

This reform could be a real test of Labour versus Green aims.

Greens want a radical change to generous state assistance as a right and a choice. This may meet some resistance from people who pay tax, but is likely to be supported by those who can’t work, and also by those who don’t want to work.

If I was offered the option of a comfortable income from the Government I would be very tempted to retire early.

We already have sustained high immigration because we don’t have enough New Zealand workers for a number of industries. If we have more of a choice to not work would higher immigration to compensate be acceptable?

Welfare reform is a big and contentious issue.

There is no doubt that the current system has serious flaws and is punitive, but it will be difficult – and potentially very expensive – to make major changes.

For the Greens to get what they want it will involve much more than welfare reform – their wish list would require…

  • welfare reform
  • tax and revenue reform
  • employment reform
  • serious reconsideration of immigration

…and probably more

If it ended up how some indicate they want it too it would involve a radical shift towards virtual socialism.

Labour lose their nerve on tax

There’s been a lot already written and commented on today’s tax back down from Labour so I won’t go over it all, but it looks like they lost their nerve on their tax working group strategy.

Labour say they won’t implement any new taxes they haven’t already been announced until after the 2020 election, but if in government they may put legislation in place before the election, set to kick off in 2021.

Grant Robertson fronted the announcement. here’s his PR:

Labour committed to fair and progressive tax system

Labour is committed to a tax system where everyone pays their fair share and where we start to address the imbalances that have fuelled the housing crisis, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson and Labour’s Revenue spokesperson Michael Wood.

“Today Labour has released its full tax plan, bringing together a number of previous announcements and more detail on the Tax Working Group. Given the amount of misinformation being spread, it is important that we have all the information in one place.

“Labour will not make any changes to personal income tax, corporate tax rates or GST.

“What we will do is reverse National’s proposed tax cuts and use the billions of dollars to make 70 per cent of families with children better off and invest more in health, education, housing and other public services.

“Our policy also cracks down on those who are exploiting weaknesses in the tax system by speculating in the housing market. Labour will end the practice of negative gearing, and extend the current bright line test that taxes the capital gain on the sale of a property other than the family home to five years.

“We are establishing the Tax Working Group to explore other options to make our tax system fairer, particularly in terms of the balance between taxing income from salaries and wages and property speculation.

“To be absolutely clear, under Labour the family home and the land around it will never be taxed. There will also be no inheritance tax.

“Labour will not shy away from the hard issues such as fixing the housing crisis and we are determined to do what is right, but we also know we must take New Zealanders with us as we do that.

“We have heard the call for New Zealanders’ voices to be heard. We will involve the public at every stage of the Working Group, as well as Cabinet and Parliament’s consideration of any changes that arise from it.

“We know it is important to get this right, so we will balance the need for certainty and urgency by ensuring that any potential changes will not come into effect until the 2021 tax year. This gives multiple opportunities for public input, and a general election before any new tax would come into effect.

“To avoid any doubt, no one will be affected by any tax changes arising from the outcomes of the Working Group until 2021. There will be no new taxes or levies introduced in our first term of government beyond those we have already announced.

“Other highlights of Labour’s plan include ensuring multinationals meet their tax obligations, a Research and Development Tax Credit and the fast tracked abolition of secondary tax as part of the Business Transformation Programme at IRD,” says Grant Robertson and Michael Wood.

Read our tax plan here.