Try as they might to talk up the significance of the Whanau Ora welfare scheme, Government ministers have taken only a tentative step towards revolutionising assistance for troubled families.

The Maori Party initiative would take money from a range of Government agencies and tender it out to whanau organisations to become one-stop shops for families dependent on state benefits and care.

Yesterday its initial funding was announced and despite all the promises of a breakthrough policy, it was underwhelming.

With just $134 million diverted to the scheme over four years, and $20 million of that to be spent monitoring its results, a mere $28.5 million a year will be dispersed between 20 whanau organisations - around $1.4 million each.

The personal interventions intended to "wrap around" whanau might not even get that much.

The Whanau Ora Minister, Tariana Turia, says some of the money will be used to change providers' business models, train practitioners and improve IT systems.

For an initiative meant to address the combined failings from the billions spent in health, education, employment and justice on dysfunctional, state-dependent families it is really no more than a long pilot programme.

For those who feared vast sums of public money would be handed to independent middle men, with no certainty of accountability, there may be some relief.

Those hoping for something, anything, substantial enough to make a difference in Maori families' wellbeing and bring hope to an underclass must feel disappointed.

The National Party has once again encouraged new policy thinking but lacked the nerve to pursue it, emphatically, once received.

This time it cannot have blanched at the cost as it is not extra spending but transferred from agencies currently deploying it.

Its Maori Party partner has secured the pilot; there is always the prospect of Whanau Ora showing up the fragmented bureaucracy and achieving its, so far, unspecified performance targets.

Yet a bold move to help the most vulnerable this is not.

Prime Minister John Key says Whanau Ora is about families taking responsibility for themselves and sorting out their own lives.

That, and the devolution of state assistance to community groups, is in accord with his party's philosophies.

He wants Whanau Ora available to all, not just Maori, and it may become so, given that organisations providing Government services to Maori currently have non-Maori clients.

More the pity then that the funding commitment is so half-hearted that it will struggle to make an impression on Maori in need, let alone all who might qualify.

Most of the money will come from the previous Government's Pathway to Partnership fund which funnelled Government money to agencies contracted to the welfare and children's agencies as well as victim support.

That scheme also had the aim of reducing duplication and helping the needy through a one-stop approach. It, too, was to be measured on achieving positive outcomes.

For now, Whanau Ora will simply join the firmament of state and community organisations providing assistance. It cannot achieve a one-stop shop because too many of its potential clients will still need to go elsewhere.

Despite its low-key introduction it will carry considerable goodwill from politicians and voters who despair at the failure of years of reforms, tough love, carrots and sticks to convince people to accept help to help themselves.

Mr Key is right when he says whanau will have to be ambitious for change. Yesterday's funding announcement has left the Government open to questions from opponents as diverse as the Greens and New Zealand First about the level of its own ambition for this scheme.