Govt appoints advisory panel to overhaul welfare system

By Moana Makapelu Lee

The government has announced plans to overhaul the welfare system.

Minister for Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni has appointed a panel of experts to advise the government on what changes are needed to make the system more effective.

Sepuloni addressed media at Te Papa on Monday morning.

"Overhauling the welfare system is as ambitious task but one this government knows needs to be done”.

"Our vision of our welfare is of a welfare system that ensures people are treated with dignity, can participate in their communities, have an adequate income and standard of living and the skills and training to secure meaningful employment".

The panel consists of eleven experts from a range of fields including social advocates, academics, economists and business leaders.

Chaired by the former children's commissioner, Professor Cynthia Kiro, the panel will be tasked with coming up with recommendations to improve the welfare system including addressing income adequacy.

Sepuloni says "In terms of well-being which this government is committed to, then that's definitely an area that we need to look at.  Is it an adequate amount of money, is the system set up in a way that ensures that people are getting the support they need?"

Professor Kiro says, "We know that income adequacy is one part of a more complex picture but we're also coming up and looking at specifics and as we come up with ideas we will communicate those".

The overhaul is part of the government's confidence and supply agreement with the Greens.  Greens Co-Leader Marama Davidson says it has been a long time coming.

“I'm glad to see the panel established.  It's an expert panel and it fulfills the government's agreement with the Greens to get this department cleaned up”.

“The welfare system is supposed to support those in need, but as Māori families know and families caring for a physically disabled person, it's not always the case".

Sepuloni says current social welfare policies are having a serious effect on children nationwide who are falling through the cracks of the system.

"The fact that we have a welfare system that has attracted a lot of stigma over the years and judgment of those that have, for whatever reason, not been in employment has had indirect implications on children".

Sepuloni says changes are already underway.

"There's been a huge service delivery programme that's been undertaken behind the scenes and we'll be seeking advice from the expert advisory group on that work as well as them undertaking other work". 

The group is expected to report back to the government in February next year.