Friday, April 9, 2010

Lindsay Mitchell: What difference will whanau ora make?

Whanau Ora is a restructuring of welfare services. There is no indication yet that welfare benefits are involved. Whanau ora promises to work with and reduce dysfunctional families. Dysfunctional families experience a range of negative occurrences; truancy, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, criminal offending, poor physical and mental ill-health are some.

Dependence on benefits is a big driver of dysfunction. Benefits - or a guaranteed weekly payment from Work and Income regardless - absolve people from working for a living and having positive, constructive and co-dependent relationships with other whanau members. Benefits allow people to live outside of functioning society. Welfare services evolve as a response to this dysfunction. Services may ameliorate some of the problems but a significant reduction cannot be possible while the prime driver - benefits - remains unchanged.

The taskforce report used an example of a working single mother whose children were going off the rails and was having to deal with various authorities. This example isn't typical however. The Early Start programme, the only programme that has systematically identified the neediest families, provided services to them and compared the outcomes to a control group that did not receive services, found 90 percent of their clients were on welfare. The problematic working mother does fit however with Tariana Turia's view that women should be allowed to stay on the DPB until their youngest dependent child completes his or her schooling.

It is possible that Maori will be better providers of welfare services for Maori people. John Tamihere maintains his trust can reduce youth offending if given ample resourcing. But it is difficult to see by what mechanism whanau ora is going to ensure people 'meet their obligations' unless the trust also controls benefit inflow into the dysfunctional families they aim to assist. That eventuality may still be a whanau ora goal. In the past trusts or agents have been appointed to manage benefits. As it stands however there is no intimation this is going to happen. The report specifies that there is, "... no expectation iwi would fund core services such as health or unemployment benefits."

The government claims that the 20 new whanau ora contracts will be a fiscally neutral policy. Funding will be drawn from the existing Health, Social Development and Maori Development budgets. This can only mean that there will be winners and there will be losers. We have yet to see which service providers are going to have their funding cut or lose it altogether.

The whanau ora concept focuses on the family and their collective responsibility. But in my experience working in a voluntary capacity with needy families, there is usually one (or two) individuals that pull the whanau down. Who make their own problems everybody else's. For instance Corrections complains about imprisoned whanau members pressuring their relatives to bring drugs into prison. This can take the form of intimidation or physical threats. Hence the dysfunction multiplies. However the problem still begins with, and must be resolved by, the individual.

Perhaps it is time to start talking more about personal responsibility instead of collective responsibility. When the US decided to grab welfare dependence and all the attendant dysfunction by the neck and give it a good shake they did so via new legislation called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act(PRWORA). President Clinton told Americans welfare, as they had known it, would change. In the majority of cases welfare became strictly short term assistance, the aim being to restore the incentive to rely on one's own efforts and avoid self-destructive behaviours .
Simply changing the way services are provided will only scratch the surface if the current benefit system remains unchanged.


Anonymous said...

Yes, but John Key has already agreed to run with this racist whanau ora policy so more dependency seems to be his goal rather than personal responsibility and independence from the state. Goodness knows how this march to racism and dependency can be stopped.

Anonymous said...

You hit it on the head when you pointed out that benefit flows to the dydfunctional must be controlled under Whanau Ora in order for the relationship between family and provider to be effective.

Just because it is a Maori agency telling a Maori family what to do there is no guarantee change will occur.

National does not seem to be whole hearted about it either so my money is on it being a damp sqib. What govt department is going to give up part of its budget to a private Whanau Ora provider?