Summit 2017: Beyond Social Investment

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) will hold its annual Social Security Summit "Beyond Social Investment" this Friday, September 8 at the University of Auckland.

Building on the 2016 event, this Summit will focus on the Government’s proclaimed ‘social investment approach’ to welfare reform. What exactly does this new buzzword really mean for our most vulnerable? What are the implications of increased 'target efficiency'?

The central idea of the social investment approach is that government’s financial resources should be targeted to children and families at high risk of poor outcomes, as determined by a Risk Index. Risk factors include information about ethnicity, parents’ level of formal education, history in the justice system, length of time supported by a welfare benefit, and a finding by Oranga Tamariki of neglect or abuse.

But as Treasury has clearly stated, “risk indicators don’t always lead to poor outcomes”. Some of those who are at risk don’t have poor outcomes and some of those who have poor outcomes are not identified as being at risk. This means that many who need services will not receive them and some identified as needing supervision and services would not in fact need them.

Speakers at the 2017 summit: Beyond Social Investment, will examine and critique this approach to welfare provision, and discuss what a social welfare system that genuinely put "the well-being of children at the centre" would look like.

Associate Professor Mike O’Brien, CPAG economics spokesperson, says a major danger in the current approach is that a small group of children and their families will be managed in ways that are intrusive.

“Implementing the social investment approach will result in a society in which some children and their families are stigmatised and treated as ‘lesser’ human beings,” says O’Brien.

“A comprehensive approach to investing in the social wellbeing of all children and their families would focus on ensuring adequate income for all, appropriate and affordable housing, and ensuring all children have access to educational opportunities to maximise their skills and interests.

“Ensuring that they have the right mix of job and training opportunities after leaving school and access to health care as needed is imperative, as part of real social investment.”

Dr Jess Berenston-Shaw, researcher at the Morgan Foundation and co-author of Pennies from Heaven says that social investment 'kiwi-style' is just a very small old idea: top down targeting.

“It will fail families the same way a singular focus on targeting has always failed them,” says Berenston-Shaw.

“Instead, investing properly in our society can look bold, embrace risk and real innovation, it can be led by the communities that people in government serve, in true partnership with researchers, practitioners and policy makers.

“People in government should replace social investment with a true innovation and a scientific culture that embraces both top-down and community-led experimentation; a culture with trust in people at its heart.”

Economist and Policy Director at the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Dr Bill Rosenberg, says that the current government’s social investment is about finding a more efficient way to narrow down the support people can expect from our public services, with extreme forms of targeting.

“It only sometimes considers the long term, and too often focuses on the cost savings to the government rather than the benefits to citizens and society,” says Rosenberg.

“Good social policy must look at the long term and must test policies with evidence, but it must always weigh up the benefits as well as the costs, and many of those benefits – like parents having quality time to spend with their children – cannot be quantified and are to society, not only individuals. It must also consider cohesion of society and continuing support for public services. Universalism in some form is frequently the best and simplest policy.”

To hear more from the experts about alternative, genuinely child-centred approaches to ‘social investment’, come along to the Beyond Social Investment 2017 Summit.

For more information about the event, co-hosted by CPAG with the University of Auckland's Centre for Applied Research in Economics (CARE) and the Retirement Policy and Research Centre (RPRC), visit CPAG’s website.

Follow this link to register for the event.