Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Poverty group to focus on best value for cash

Bill English.
Photo / Mark Mitchell
Bill English. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English is clear what the new ministerial committee on poverty he heads won't be about - it won't set about throwing money at the problem of what he calls "hand-wringing or writing strategies".

It will be concerned with getting the best results from the hundred of millions of dollars being spent on social service delivery, he says.

"When you don't have a whole lot of money to spend, you have to look pretty hard at using what you have to make a difference."

Mr English said the poverty committee would not be starting cold - it would expand the role of an existing ministerial committee.

The poverty committee would provide oversight for welfare and housing reforms and work in the youth justice sector which had built up momentum.

It would provide oversight for developments in whanau ora and for a grassroots social sector trial taking place in six centres - Kawerau, Tokoroa, Te Kuiti, Taumarunui, Levin, and Gore - which the Government quietly began in August without any formal statement by a minister.

The trials under the management of a non-government organisation or individual manager will run for two years and are designed to try to find out what works and what doesn't in terms of interventions to help young people in truancy, unemployment, getting off drugs or whatever their problem is.

"We think the way to deal with poverty is opportunity," Mr English said. "Too much Government spending is well-intentioned but unfocused. We want to get it tied down to achieving results."

The establishment of a high-powered ministerial committee on poverty was set out in the confidence and supply agreement between National and the Maori Party on Sunday.

It will comprise Mr English and Whanau Ora Minister Tariana Turia, as well the ministers of education, health, housing, Maori affairs and social development. The committee will issue its first report mid-2012 and issue updates no later than every six months.

New Labour leader David Shearer has called on National to make it a cross-party committee which Prime Minister John Key has rejected.

Mr English told the Herald it would be a working committee rather than an advisory one.

The roll-out of whanau ora nationally and the social sector trials were showing that some social delivery agencies were not able to make a lasting difference to people's lives.

They could raise money, get an office, find youth workers or home visitors and get to the front door.

"They are not driven by real results, they are driven by caring and supporting and helping."

Asked what measure the committee would adopt for poverty, Mr English said measuring poverty was not a big issue.

"We are not looking at the possibility of large-scale cash injections that are going to move whole groups of people over some measure. That's not the recipe because we don't have the cash to do that."

He believed the public would not tolerate handing more money to low-income families and beneficiaries - or at least not until everything else had been tried.

- NZ Herald

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