“Devolving welfare funding to tribal authorities creates a huge opportunity for the misuse of public money, and creates an immediate incentive for welfare needs to grow, to attract more funding”, was what I wrote when I filled out a feedback form about six years ago when Whanau Ora was being planned.
One News coverage of the latest Whanau Ora embarrassment did not include any needy people who benefited from the scheme but did include a broad sweep of the bro-rocrats whose bulging waistlines show where the money is going.
The Whanau Ora feedback form asked for other comments. This is what I wrote
I 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.To their credit, the National-led government has made some baby steps towards encouraging the "needy" back into work.
It would actually be better for the 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.
The scheme you are advocating is to address a welfare problem, which is not a specifically Maori problem. Amid the somewhat flowery rhetoric of the Whanau Ora discussion document lie valid criticisms of the fragmented delivery of social services in this country. Why therefore, enact partial reform for those of the population who claim Maori ethnicity? Why not reform the total delivery of social services?
If the scheme is to involve the delivery of welfare to those who identify as Maori, the proposed Whanau Ora scheme would concern 29 percent of the Maori population, since 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.
This welfare problem is a direct result of the breakdown of the family plus the availability of poorly directed state funding.
The most common benefit-receiving contemporary Maori whanau is that of unmarried Maori mothers supporting their children, living in private rental accommodation or a state house.
This is because Maori ex-nuptial births are far higher (76 percent in 2004) than the general population. Maori women have a greater likelihood of separation within 10 years of marriage (25 percent) than the general population (19 percent). The Maori marriage rate is lower (29 percent of those aged 15 and over) than that of the general population (49 percent).
The structure of contemporary Maori families is in contrast with the situation that existed up to the 1950s, when most Maoris lived rurally and communally. Then, the family, or whanau consisted of more than two generations, two nuclear families, and usually more than one household, forming the basis of the sub-tribe (hapu), and tribe (iwi).
There is evidence of a pattern prevalent in the welfare class, regardless of race, where couples deliberately live apart so that the woman and her children may be supported by a benefit, and the man may either support himself or receive a benefit separately.
I don’t see how delivering welfare to Maori through Maori case managers paid by a tribal authority from a taxpayer-funded Whanau Ora fund is going to address this problem. I also don’t think it will reduce the welfare spend because tribal authorities will hire case managers, buy cars, phones, office space, and extend their bureaucracies.
Besides, the recommended attempt to reconnect Maori solo mums with their cultural roots, will probably just further legitimise the pattern of state-supported solo mothers, since traditional Maori society involved men having multiple wives and families, often in separate locations.
Any government wanting to reform welfare would have to consider that since families with a married mum and a dad do better than de facto or solo-parent families, incentives would be required to encourage married families. This may mean paying more to couples who stay together, and even more for those willing to commit to marriage.
The current practice of paying more to solo parents has provided a career option for unskilled teenage mothers, and for married couples with issues, has encouraged family break-up.
Rather than pushing the Tino Rangatiratanga barrow, that of Maori control of all things Maori, and further entrenching welfare as a way of life, you should be planning how to put welfare recipients into work.
However, Whanau Ora was so poorly conceived that its absence of clear objectives and disciplined administration meant that it was only ever going to turn into a giant trough for the providers you saw interviewed.