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I’d like to welcome you all here for the launch of our Social Services Discussion Document.

I’d especially like to thank The Loft for hosting us today and more importantly for the work you do supporting children, families and the community in Christchurch.

It’s particularly appropriate to be hosted at the Loft because a belief in the need to support children, families and communities underpins National’s commitment to high quality social services. National’s Social Services Discussion Document sets out how we will support all New Zealanders to achieve their full potential and lead better lives.

Backing New Zealanders

National wants all New Zealanders to have a fair go.

We believe that as much as possible New Zealanders should be in the driver’s seat of their own lives. We believe they should keep more of what they earn and make their own life decisions, because Kiwi families know their own needs best.

But while we believe in a fair go, we do not believe in a free ride.

We understand that sometimes people need help to get back on their feet. We believe in a strong safety net that helps vulnerable Kiwis out of the cycle of poverty, by delivering what they actually need to make the most of their lives.

At the same time, we believe in mutual obligations and accountability. Our social welfare and social services are paid for through the taxes from the hard work of all New Zealanders, and that effort needs to be respected.

The current Government is failing vulnerable Kiwis. Despite all its big talk, and there has been a lot of it, the number of people on benefits is up, the social housing wait list has more than doubled, and child poverty indicators are worse. Sadly things will only get worse still as the economy slows, unless we get back on track.

National has a plan to turn the lives of vulnerable New Zealanders around. 

We are not the types to just throw money at problems in the vague hope they will just go away.

We want to tackle the causes of disadvantage, not just the symptoms. Today I’m going to tell you more about that plan.

Social Investment

Each year, approximately $70 billion is spent on social services programmes in this country, from supporting new mums and babies as they start their first thousand days, to helping seniors in their later years, to those who depend upon the state when they are unwell or not able to work. We are committed to helping people to improve their lives.

National believes in what we call ‘The Social Investment approach’. It was designed by Bill English and Paula Bennett. It is proven to focus on better outcomes for those who need help the most and we continue to believe in it – because it works.

It means we’re investing in programmes with proven results because we know that more money doesn’t necessarily mean better outcomes.

Put simply, prevention is better than a cure. If we can use the knowledge we already have to help people help themselves before they’re in crisis, we can transform the lives of individuals and their families.

Our commitment to Social Investment is about ensuring spending is focussed on targeted interventions that strike at the heart of the issues affecting people’s lives and that tackle the root causes of disadvantage, not just the symptoms.

National took this approach in government, and it was working. For instance, we know that 70 per cent of the children known to the care and protection system will be on a benefit by age 21 and this cohort is nine times more likely than others to go to prison in their lifetime. We know that focussing on those children will end in them having a better chance at succeeding.

It’s about taking an evidence-based approach, using data and analytics to direct specific help to those who are most in need.

Targets

Targets are a big part of this. Setting targets works. It focusses the minds of the public service and gives government the tools to better measure intervention and outcome.

We set targets for vaccinations and the rate of vaccination increased.

We set targets for the numbers of kids achieving NCEA level 2 and the numbers increased.

We set targets for mothers registering with a lead maternity carer and the numbers increased.

We set targets for reducing the numbers of children living in benefit dependent homes and the numbers reduced.

It meant better results for taxpayers. But more importantly, it meant better results for families and vulnerable people.

Targets were dropped by the current Government and they haven’t been replaced. Not surprisingly all these measures have got worse. That means vulnerable New Zealanders are worse off – the vulnerable are again falling between the cracks. I find that as avoidable as it is sad.

In Government National was ambitious – because we knew we had to be. I remain ambitious for every single New Zealander.

We will be open to new solutions. For example, through our Social Innovation Fund, we will ensure local communities can tackle local challenges. We want to utilise the knowledge of those who know their needs best – and that’s parents and families and local communities.

Families

I’m a big believer that families are the best form of welfare.

For those of you who don’t know my story, my beautiful wife Natalie and I have been married for 14 years. She’s phenomenal. She runs her own business and is a wonderful mother to our three children Emlyn, Harry and Jemima.

I’m away from home a lot and I’m constantly in awe of how she juggles everything. They say Leader of the Opposition is the toughest job in politics, it’s nothing compared with everything she does.

Our eldest child Emlyn is seven now. He was born with two clubbed feet. All the parents here will remember what a daunting time it is having your first child, let alone one who has higher needs.

Emlyn underwent surgery, without which he may never have been able to walk. There were surgeries, home visits, casts and going through something called the ‘Ponseti method’.

We were so lucky for the support we received. I’m happy to report that there’s no stopping him these days – running, cycling and dancing.

His story makes me acutely aware of the support that new parents need.

Natalie and I will always be grateful for the support we had for all three of our babies. I want to make sure all parents feel as supported as we were, especially early on.

Children

We want new mums and dads equipped with the right skills, relationships and access to support services that will see their child grow up in a healthy, secure and nurturing family environment.

The first few days after giving birth are some of the most important, but they can also be the most challenging for new mums.

That’s why Louise Upston has been a relentless champion of the ‘three day stay’. We are committing to all new mums being entitled to three days of care after giving birth. We want that support to be available after each child. We’ve heard stories of women who’ve been rushed out the hospital door. That’s why we’ll ring-fence the funding. That means if one mum only wants to stay for one day, another mother who needs to stay longer will be able to stay for five. DHBs will have to use the funding for this purpose. This will help new mothers with breastfeeding, bonding and overcoming the baby blues.

Seniors

Our seniors have spent their lives investing in New Zealand – they deserve our respect – so we will continue to invest in them. It’s important we give all Kiwis a chance to be happy and healthy in their later years, where they feel valued and supported to live independently for as long as they can.

That’s why we’re giving a cast-iron guarantee that we’ll work hard to keep their costs down and to keep Superannuation at two thirds of the average wage.

Social Housing

At every age, we know it’s important Kiwis have a place to call home. We know strong homes build strong families and strong families build strong communities.

For some, help is needed to put a roof over their heads. I’m proud that during our last term in government we built over 3,000 new state houses. Many of the newest state houses announced this term are from projects started by the previous National Government.

We want to continue the work we started, using the expertise and experience of Community Housing Providers to ensure state housing’s the right size, in the right place and of the right quality for New Zealanders to live in. The current Government is single-mindedly obsessed with KiwiBuild. That hasn’t resolved the issues so many Kiwis face, and it has been a complete failure.

We can’t ignore the fact that, right now, many Kiwis don’t have a place to call home. We will ensure vulnerable New Zealanders are housed more quickly. We’ll expand the successful Housing First policy we established in government, and we’ll set a target for reducing the time it takes to house priority cases in social housing. Under this Government, the wait time has increased, and that’s not good enough. A home is more than just a roof over your head, it’s a place to raise a family and be a valued and productive part of your local community.

Family violence

People also deserve to be safe in their homes. New Zealand has one of the worst rates of child abuse in the developed world. Police respond to one incidence of family violence every seven minutes.

But some programmes have made progress. For instance, National introduced Integrated Safety Response pilots in Christchurch and the Waikato in 2016. These are led by the Police and provide a rapid collaborative response to family violence from health providers, NGOs and social agencies. I’d like to pay tribute to my colleague Amy Adams, who’s here today, for the integral role she played in establishing the ISR initiatives. Agencies working together is a key part of our Social Investment approach.

Today I am pleased to announce we will invest further to extend the ISR initiative to more communities, to further reduce family violence.

Welfare

National takes a hard-line approach when it comes to welfare and I make no apology for this. We want to support people to support themselves and this is only possible because hardworking Kiwis pay their tax. We have obligations to these hardworking Kiwis too.

In the past two years, under this Government, we’ve seen the number of people on the dole rise dramatically, it’s increased by over 22,000. We’ve seen more hardship grants being paid out and the social housing wait list more than double as over 13,000 desperate Kiwis struggle to find a home. All of this at a time when businesses are crying out for workers.

The best way to lift someone out of poverty, is to get them back to work. Children in benefit dependent homes do worse in education and are more likely to end up on benefits themselves than those whose parents are in work.

The Importance of Work

I believe it’s profoundly irresponsible of any Government to abandon families to welfare dependency. We have real opportunities to break the cycle of dependency and improve the lives of the poorest New Zealanders, and it’s important we take them. It’s what responsible governments do. We can’t let Kiwis languish on the dole.

National will set clear targets for reducing the number of benefit dependent households and we’ll be renewing our commitment to a fair but firm sanctions regime.

For those who do take steps back to work – we’ll support you. We’ll increase abatement rates and ensure those who move off benefits and into work can keep more of what they earn. We’ll make sure work pays, both in its financial benefits and in the opportunities that employment brings with it. We’ll also look at ways to keep people in work when times are tough.

Conclusion

I hope you’ll take the time to read through our document, and please give us your feedback.

The document we’re releasing today is part of the biggest policy development process by an Opposition ever.

The current Government has failed the most vulnerable and is failing to deliver for New Zealanders.

We’re doing the work now in Opposition so we’re ready to hit the ground running in 2020.

We want all New Zealanders to live happy, healthy, prosperous lives. Our bottom line is you.

 

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