Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mike Butler: Whanau Ora social engineering

If you think the Whanau Ora Taskforce Report (1) is all about streamlining the delivery of welfare to dysfunctional families, think again. The 25,000-word report, released on Thursday, April 8, 2010, dreams of socially re-engineering the Maori population to recreate functioning three-generation families interacting under the guidance of tribal leaders funded by a permanent supply of taxpayer money.

The report was produced by the Whanau Ora task force comprising trained psychiatrist Mason Durie (chair), who is deputy vice-chancellor at Massey University (Palmerston North) and Professor of Maori Research and Development; Rob Cooper, who is the chief executive of the Ngati Hine Health Trust, a Maori-owned provider of social services in Northland; Di Grennell, who is executive director of the Amokura Family Violence Prevention Consortium; economist Suzanne Snively; and Nancy Tuaine, who is the manager of the Whanganui River Maori Trust Board.

While the report is big on vision, it is deficient in economics, budgeting, business, and statistical analysis, and shows no evidence of how the proposal would improve health indicators and reduce family violence. For instance, social services have been devolved to Maori providers for 20 years or more. Have Maori wellbeing indicators over that time improved or worsened? If the devolved spending has improved outcomes, there would be a case for continuing down this track. If not, better stop, because it is a waste of money. Members of the taskforce claim long experience in the provision of social services to Maori but have not addressed that one, basic question.

The scale of spending on Maori welfare was published by ACT New Zealand in 2003. That report estimated that total government spending on Maori had reached $7.3-billion a year, while the amount of total tax paid by Maori was $2.3-billion a year. Whanau Ora, which is claimed to come from existing funding, would therefore divert up to a further $1-billion a year to Maori social services.

While talking about the scale of spending on Maori welfare, it is important to note that in 2006, 88,500 or 29 percent of working-age Maori (aged 18-64 years) received a benefit. A total 71 percent of Maori were not receiving a benefit. Many Maori leaders do Maori people a disservice by reinforcing an image of Maori as needy, when it is mostly not true.

For those who think that 18 years of treaty settlements worth close to $1-billion would create a financial base for “Maoridom”, think again. Those settlements have been claimed by tribal elites, who have said: “Iwi maintain that their contributions to whanau wellbeing do not include providing resources that would otherwise be provided by the state.” (2) Yes, welfare is not regarded as the responsibility of the tribe, so no tribal funding is available for Whanau Ora.

The report showed no indication of any response to a number of questions I raised in my submission on last year’s Whanau Ora discussion document. Devolving welfare funding to tribal authorities creates an immediate incentive for welfare needs to grow, to attract more funding, and creates a huge opportunity for the misuse of public money. An example of missing trust funds was reported during the week about Waikanae's Te Runanga O Te Ati Awa Ki Whakarongotai trust.

I work as an accommodation provider, and have seen how social services devolved through the local tribal authority works. The one-stop shop to deliver social services is really just an employee with a vehicle, a cellphone, and a long list of names and phone numbers of people to call for whatever service is needed.
The report does discuss whether the one-stop shop would be better delivered as an individual or as a team with members having different specialty areas. My observation is that it would actually be better for the “needy” client to do a bit of legwork him or herself, since they might learn something new and develop a bit of confidence in so doing. People who are driven to me for accommodation tend to expect me to drive them around and do things for them, which of course I cannot do. This type of hand-holding is actually entrenching dependence.

Questions remain over the quality of service delivered by some Maori providers.

The scheme has an initial problem with how the target family is going to view the helper -- or how are they going to respond to "Kia ora, I’m from your local Whanau Ora service provider and I’m here to help . . .” Using a scenario cited in the report of a solo mother with unlicensed driver son and truant daughter, how open would she be to a social worker about activities her children are involved in when those activities have significant penalties attached to them? Besides, what household is going to admit outsiders to help with their problems unless they are under a court-ordered requirement to do so.

Left-wing commentator Chris Trotter agrees that the Whanau Ora report “is full of what critics have called ‘waffle’ and ‘psychobabble’”. He said the scheme is like a faith-based charity, of which there are many in the United States. “In the battle to wrest the provision of social services from federal and state authorities the FBCs acted as American Neoliberalism’s "Trojan Horses" – hiding the fundamental goal of welfare privatisation behind the culturally unassailable front of Christian community service,” he wrote.(3) “And just as privatised correctional facilities are on their way to becoming highly profitable cogs in the machinery of social repression, Whanau Ora, too, will see private individuals, trusts and corporations (albeit brown-faced ones) profiting from the unrelenting institutional discrimination and structural inequality that drives working-class Maori and Pakeha alike into the arms of those who long ago mastered the art of doing well by doing good,” he wrote.
Perhaps Trotter is crediting Prime Minister John Key with greater subtlety of thinking and capability for long-range planning than he has hitherto shown. But it is clear that Whanau Ora exists, not for its merits, but because it is part of a deal Key has struck with the More-Money-for-Maori Party to stay in power.

1. Whanau Ora: Report of the Taskforce on Whanau-Centred Initiatives,
2. Report, 2.3.10
3. Chris Trotter, Whanau Ora: Faith-Based Charity?


Anonymous said...

The whole scheme is a racist sop to the racist Maori Party - National should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this scheme to be introduced.

Anonymous said...

Good article, Mike. The key point you have made is this one: "Devolving welfare funding to tribal authorities creates an immediate incentive for welfare needs to grow, to attract more funding..." In other words, this will be a scheme that will grow like topsy consuming more and more taxpayer funding and creating more and more race based dependency. It is a hopeless situation.