December 14, 2023

New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (Inc)
Media Release, 14 December 2023

For immediate release

The government should introduce a deliberate strategy of using a people-centred, devolved approach to address persistent disadvantage, NZIER said today.

New Zealand's social assistance system does not meet the needs of these people.

Government departments are not set up to deliver the sort of support that people experiencing persistent disadvantage need to live lives they value. Departments mostly focus on directly delivering cash and services that address a single presenting symptom (a health issue, lack of housing, etc). 

This approach works well for most people but demonstrably fails a small but significant minority. Our best estimate is that the group experiencing the most severe and enduring disadvantage might number around 15,000 people. These are the least well-off members of society, who we argue urgently require a highly tailored approach.

The Institute’s analysis of this issue is contained in a working paper called: Let it go: devolving power and resources to improve lives , WP 2023-02.

NZIER recommends that the design and delivery of assistance should be led by people experiencing persistent disadvantage and those walking with them on a journey of change.

Working with assistance providers, people experiencing persistent disadvantage should identify goals and plans and make changes that lead to them living a better life. 

Under a devolved system, power over what to do, when, how and even why rests with the people experiencing disadvantage and the organisations helping them. 

We suggest that there be a variety of such organisations with overlapping catchments, and there should be deliberate in-built flexibility to allow for unmet needs to be addressed when they are identified. A positive culture of ongoing learning is essential to identify systems issues and improve effectiveness over time. 

Above all, these organisations must be accountable to the individuals and families they are helping. The Crown’s role should be to set broad objectives for outcomes, provide funding, and encourage learning.

Justice demands devolution. Experience demonstrates how devolution can work. It is not a perfect system. But it has the potential to be a much better approach than the status quo.

For further information, please contact:
Peter Wilson
Principal Economist
(021) 870928 

Read the working paper here