The disappearing data story

The current National Government talks often about the need for transparency in decision making and in many areas argues for improving access to data to make better decisions about public policy. However it appears that the Ministry of Social Development is exempt from these exhortations to be more open.

After a long history of publishing an annual statistical report which contained valuable information for researchers, it is now no longer producing such a volume.  This annual statistical report produced by the Ministry– that last of which was published in 2012 - contained  a series of tables which provided, among other things, information on trends in the use of financial assistance, the numbers receiving each type of assistance from the Unemployment Benefit to the Gold Card.

This lack of publication of important information has spread to other areas of its work. The Ministry no longer produces its annual Social Report which was designed to provide a picture of progress towards better social outcomes for New Zealanders. It used a set of statistical indicators to monitor trends across key dimensions of people’s lives.

Furthermore the Ministry has ceased publication of the New Zealand Journal of Social Policy – again a very useful source of information on social policy matters of interest to academics, students, the public and other government agencies. The last volume was published in 2011.

Finally a check of the MSD web page showcasing its publication shows that it has nothing listed beyond 2013. No research reports, no working papers!

One can only surmise that the National Government does not want the broader population to know or understand the policies it is introducing in the social area - and more importantly, in many cases, the negative impacts of these policies!

In order to put pressure on MSD to produce these valuable reports and information, perhaps people need to write requesting the data be supplied via a series of Official Information Act requests. A flood of such requests would help the Ministry understand the importance of the reports to the public of New Zealand.