Rethinking the welfare system so that it is fit for families in the 21st century sounds like a daunting task, because it is. The existing welfare system in Aotearoa is widely acknowledged as inadequately meeting the needs of our whānau and tamariki. Representatives from Deloitte New Zealand’s Social Impact Practice, recently attended Child Poverty Action Group’s annual summit which strived to address the question:

“How can politicians and policy makers reform the welfare system so that it is fit for families in the 21st century?”

Child Poverty Action Group is an independent charity working to eliminate child poverty in Aotearoa through research, education and advocacy. Their 2018 summit speakers explored this question through powerful storytelling and looking at possible answers through the lenses of targeted family support, financial support and community development.

We heard 15 speakers from a range of academic, industry, political and community backgrounds share their diverse schools of thought on the best ways to create a welfare system fit for 21st century families. Throughout the day four themes of change became prominent for us:

We know our welfare system is not working and everyone has a theory on why. Some of the assumptions that underpin our current system functions are clearly outdated. A few examples raised by Professor Michael Fletcher were;

  • The fact that our welfare system is constructed for solo parents, often discounting the increasing needs of a two parent family who make up only ~3% of beneficiary households
  • The assumption that income is shared equally within households, discounting all the social and cultural reasons that this is often not the case

Other assumptions are not so clear cut, a good example is the future of work and challenges to the existing construct that paid work is the only way to contribute and participate in society, discounting unpaid activities including art, music, volunteer and carer work. The power of stories was woven throughout the summit, from personal stories from Marama Davidson and Debbie Leyland, to more academic and political understandings of narrative and storytelling. Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw and Alan Johnson spoke about the assumption that we make decisions based on facts, when in reality we make our decisions based on a personal variant of dominant narratives, emotions, mental models, values aligned messengers (what we think of the person sharing the message) and a perception of majority views. Dr Jess, Alan and Sam Orchard highlighted the importance of changing the dominant discourse in Aotearoa surrounding welfare and beneficiaries if we hope to reform our welfare system.

This leads nicely into the power of love and community. The power of love links perfectly in with narrative, because the existing narratives around welfare are filled with stigma and suspicion. Our beneficiaries are impoverished by a system developed inside of this narrative, the outcome being that their needs are barely met, and the system is often inhuman. The power of love was described most succintly by Alan Johnson who opened by expressing the “need to work fundamentally on hearts and minds to change public policy” and describing love as sitting at the intersection of forgiveness, hope and hospitality. Thinking of love as a lever that influences policy is an appealing idea, if New Zealanders loved one another without stigma or suspicion, what would our welfare system look like?

This love should shine through in our public policy making priorities here in Aotearoa however, it would appear that we have a way to go here as well. Amanda D’Souza shared her research findings that Aotearoa is failing to meet the needs of our children in our policy making, when compared to Sweden where culture, laws and institutional mechanisms ensure the prioritisation of children in all policy making. Both narrative and love are key in building a consensus in Aotearoa that children are important to us and subsequently developing comprehensive policies regarding child wellbeing and equity.

Our team’s work on family-centred policy is also showing us how different our world view could be if we recognised that children are nested within the whānau and we move from an individual to a collective model for policy making. For more on this, read article four of Deloitte’s State of the State series which explores a family-by-family approach to building New Zealand’s social capital.

The 2018 summit brought together speakers passionate about making change for Aotearoa’s children in their respective fields of academia, industry, community or politics. The themes from the day ask for change in our system constructs, a change in dominant narrative and public feeling, and a subsequent focus on prioritising our children in public policy.

The “what next” question is the daunting one, how do we bring together this passion, these lenses, to meaningfully change policy, funding and support for Aotearoa’s whānau and tamariki?

Child Poverty Action Group’s blog and video from the day is available here.

Find out more about Deloitte New Zealand's Social Impact Practice here

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