New Zealand Budget

Analysis

Public Sector: Bolder approaches to social investment

2017 New Zealand Budget

By Adithi Pandit

We welcome the announcement of a substantive package for social investment. The $321 million Social Investment Package is slated to fund 14 initiatives across seven portfolios to help our most vulnerable people, including:

  • $100m for a mental health social investment fund
  • $68.8m to support vulnerable children and their families, including $28.1m for national coverage for Family Start
  • $34.7m for support services for children with behavioural difficulties         

Social investment has been a continued theme for government and the focus on lifting the outcomes for vulnerable families and children is aligned with Kiwi values.

This is also a very necessary package - the implementation of the ambitious roadmap for vulnerable families through Oranga Tamariki and the social service sector will require material investment. The social return on investment for these cohorts is significant but long term - and early investment in prevention must be made ahead of immediate returns.

The challenge that now faces the sector is maximising the value of this investment, by ensuring the money is spent on the right things and in the right way. Evidence based programmes in New Zealand are few, and there is a new set of capabilities required to shift towards these.

Spending in the right way is an even bigger challenge. While we have new vehicles such as the Social Investment Boards in selected locations and the Social Investment Unit, the majority of social spend is still managed within traditional agency lines. We know that vulnerable families, and indeed any client centred approach, must be truly multidisciplinary, allowing for the service mix to be managed across health, education, mental health, child care and social supports.

In Denmark, a model that is achieving remarkable results has established an infrastructure of common assessment tools, a skilled senior practitioner for each family, and a commitment across social and employment services to reprioritise to match the family's needs. This means listening to families on the support they need, reducing the number of conflicting and expensive programmes they must attend, and working with them to stabilise their lives and build independence. The investment in a structured approach and tools to make this way of working a reality has paid off. New Zealand needs to look to models like this.

While Deloitte’s State of the State New Zealand 2016 report looked at how a social investment approach can improve the long term wellbeing of the most vulnerable Kiwis, our current State of the State New Zealand 2017 (www.deloitte.com/nz/stateofthestate) widens the lens to look at household resilience and wellbeing. This latest report finds that social investment must be complemented by approaches that reduce income instability. This may take the form of a universal childhood benefit or trials of targeted guaranteed income schemes for vulnerable families.

While social investment tends to be allocated to specific interventions or programmes, a broader income related approach may have reduced overheads to administer and tackle a fundamental driver of resilience, which is having income stability to plan ahead, create security and put away a buffer for a rainy day.

Allocating social investment to some of these bolder approaches, and taking the time to build new infrastructure for collaboration, should see us maximise the return on this significant investment.

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