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    Essential Information on an Essential Issue

    Letter No.74

    6 March, 1998

    Social Responsibility

    Have you filled in your booklet yet?

    There has been very little escape from the government's call for a debate on social responsibility over the last three weeks. In a special discussion document sent to every home in the country, the government lists eleven social issues, eleven sets of expectations and poses questions it wants people to answer.

    The issues include: looking after children, pregnancy, keeping children healthy, promoting learning for under-fives, getting children to school ready to learn, dealing with young offenders, sharing of parenthood, training and preparing for employment, work obligations and income support, managing money and finally, keeping ourselves healthy.

    Social Responsibility - whose agenda?

    Views on Social Responsibility

  • Our Media Watch reports a very vigorous debate not only on the issues raised by the document, but also the idea of social responsibility itself. Almost every major politician, social services group, columnist, and cartoonist in the country have been airing their views _ ranging from applauding the government's initiative, to satirical take-offs of the questionaire to public burnings of the household document in provincial New Plymouth.

    The debate is leaning not so much towards the content of the social code, but its very concept. A common worry: Is this indeed a worthy attempt to remind us of our obligations towards each other? Or is this part of a more sinister strategy for "manufacturing the consent" of middle New Zealand towards tougher measures aimed at beneficiaries?

    Says Claire Aumonier of the Auckland group Women as Mothers: " While the government claims the code is aimed at all NZ'ers, beneficiaries are the only ones who can be financially punished for breaking it "

  • Jenny Shipley's speech to Parliament on 17 February outlined six principles which the Coalition government believes must be applied to all areas of social policy work. Interestingly, these principles are not reproduced in the household discussion document, yet they clearly indicate the government's own conclusions that taking part in paid work will be the goal of the majority of government social assistance, and that the government will focus its resources on those most in need. We reproduce these principles with excerpts of Jenny Shipley's speech in this Jobs Letter.

  • Labour's Steve Maharey says that the consultation process on the social code was brought together in quite a hurry. He says that consultation took place only between mid-December and the end of January. Maharey, who bases his comments on the answers to written parliamentary questions, says: "The issues it covers were determined by Ministers, and consultation was almost non-existent. Community groups were not consulted at all, and only the most superficial consultation took place with other key groups They have cobbled together a programme in a very short timeframe."

  • Professional pollsters have given the "thumbs down" to the questions and style of the household discussion document now distributed to every home in NZ. The consensus of pollsters interviewed by the New Zealand Herald is that if the government really wanted to know what people thought, it should have used more methodical polling techniques.

    One survey design consultant, Roger Gallagher, says that if the purpose is to gather views, it could have been designed a lot better. He says the use of unstructured and open-ended questions meant that it would be extremely difficult to analyse. He suggests that more qualitative work should have been done initially with the use of focus groups.

  • Dr Gabriel Dekel, the director of DigiPoll Ltd, says it appears the questionnaire had been designed by public relations experts rather than public opinion researchers. He says the so-called expectations in the booklet (for example, Parents should love, care for, support and protect their children) were social norms "to which we all agree". Dekel: "Then there is a vast leap to a specific question which is the government view of the problem area. In the professional terminology of survey design, this is a `leading question' It seems that if you agree with the expectation, then you must agree with the narrow view of the nature of a specific problem, or that there is one solution to that problem. If the design of the questionaire was not innocent, then it could look like manipulation to secure public support for government philosophy and policy"

  • Responses to the discussion booklet have to be sent in by April 24, when they will be analysed and reported on by the Social Welfare Department. Social Welfare reports that it is already receiving thousands of replies to the survey every day. It says that people have not only answered the yes and no questions _ many have also sent in written responses several pages long. The free phone number, set up to handle enquiries, reports that it has also been receiving several thousand calls a day, and has had many requests for booklets in other languages.

    The government has budgeted more than $1m for an estimated 130,000 responses, or a 10% response rate, but it looks as though the survey will exceed these expectations.

    Sources _ New Zealand Herald 26 February 1998 "Govt must be ready for avalanche of answers" by Audrey Young; The Dominion 2 March 1998 "Call to send survey responses to the Alliance"; The Daily News 2 March 1998 "Labour calls code shallow" by NZPA

  • Jenny Shipley's speech also outlined a timeline for action on the Coalition government's employment strategy _ a strategy which has already been experiencing delays over the last 18 months.

    You can now expect:
    -- Legislation for the new integrated service (combining NZES and Income Support) will be introduced early in May and the one-stop-shops will be opening their doors from October 1st 1998.
    -- The Community Wage programme details will be announced by Peter McCardle in April with legislation introduced in early May and the programme will come on stream fully from November.
    -- Regional employment commissioners will be appointed after the appointment of the chief executive of the new department. No dates given.

    The Cabinet has also decided that the new organisation presently being created out of the merged NZES and Income Support will be a full government department and not a crown agency. When the announcement of the merger was made last December, there was speculation that the new organisation would go the same way as other recent government restructuring in establishing a crown agency with its own Board of Directors.

    The decision to remain a government department means there will be a closer relationship between its CEO and the government minister he or she serves. The big question being debated in Wellington at the moment: Who will end up the Minister of the as-yet-unnamed super-Department?

    Source _ Transition Times, produced by the Department of Labour.

    Jenny Shipley's speech was also an opportunity to re-announce details of the Coalition employment strategy and its plans to get beneficiaries working. The Alliance, however, seized the opportunity to release documents showing that while Shipley was calling for beneficiaries to get back into the workforce, the government was imposing immediate cuts on key employment support programmes.

  • In a letter to community groups, released by the Alliance, the NZ Employment Service says: "Crown funding and expenditure in relation to subsidised employment programmes including Job Connection, Job Plus and Enterprise Allowance, right across the service, has been reviewed, and the result of this review is that we simply cannot afford to keep spending in relation to these programmes at the current level."

    The letter indicated that the service would not be able to approve any further applications for the Enterprise Allowance that requires capitalisation, and that the total allowance payable per project in relation to the weekly allowance will be dramatically reduced.

    Alliance Employment spokesman Rod Donald: "The Employment Service should be congratulated for getting more people into real jobs than they expected but instead they are saying: Sorry, this is the quota. It's a bit like the hospitals where they would rather leave the theatres empty for three months than reduce the waiting lists"

    Source _ Press statements from Rod Donald, and letters from NZES

    ACT MP Muriel Newman visited the controversial US Wisconsin welfare programmes during her Christmas break, and has returned a keen advocate of what NZ can learn from overseas welfare initiatives. In a speech in Whangarei last month, Dr Newman congratulated Jenny Shipley focussing on the problems of welfare dependency, but doesn't feel the government is going far enough in its proposed reforms. Dr Newman looks to the US for some more radical solutions, including:
    -- a lifetime limit of five years on receiving welfare payments, and a two year limit on receiving welfare payments while working.
    -- more rigorous collection of child support payments, with those who do not pay being jailed or made to do community service.
    -- welfare services contracted to private agencies, with these agencies given incentives for getting people off benefits and into work.
    -- requiring beneficiaries to work, go to school or train, and to sign a personal responsibility contract.
    -- sole parents not being exempt from work, but instead being given generous childcare support.
    -- teenage parents being required to complete schooling, live at home or under supervision, with no cash benefits.
    Source _ The Dominion 14 February 1998 "Welfare clampdown urged" by Helen Bain

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