The Government's flagship welfare policy for Maori, Whanau Ora - worth $40 million this year - is designed to lift families out of poverty and dysfunction, but it has been criticised as a waste of money and an opportunity for some to rort the system. In a four-part investigation, Yvonne Tahana speaks to those at Whanau Ora's frontline.

More cash in the pocket will ultimately improve Maori families' lives, says one of Whanau Ora's staunchest advocates.

Rob Cooper is the chief executive of Ngati Hine Health Trust, which is part of a wider Tai Tokerau Whanau Ora collective of providers.

The collective received $150,000 from the Government's Whanau Integration Innovation and Engagement Fund to develop 20 whanau plans.

Mr Cooper's trust operates from Whangarei through the mid-north. It is one of the country's poorest regions; 30 of 51 measured towns or areas in the north have scores ranging between 8 and 10 on the Index of Deprivation.


"Always we say to them [the families] ... the most important thing for you is to try to earn more money legitimately. That's the best advice we can give you. Then we say, 'Tell us how we can help you get a better income'."

Whanau Ora works in different ways around the country. In this five-member collective which stretches to Te Kao, individuals or families can choose their service provider, which will provide access to drug and alcohol, dental, health, youth, education, housing, cultural and other services.

Participating whanau will also be matched with a "navigator" who will work with family members to identify some of the issues they may have in terms of literacy, income, dysfunctional relationships, violence, abuse, health, etc.

Next, a whanau will set goals for happier and healthier lives.

Mr Cooper said some plans were poignant - one identified learning to read as a goal.