Welfare schemes ‘struggling’

http://www.stuff.co.nz/4795187a11.html

Welfare schemes ‘struggling’

By BEN FAWKES – The Dominion Post | Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Obesity, poverty and drug abuse are gobbling up billions of dollars in state funding as “short-sighted” welfare programmes struggle to deal with society’s most deprived people, the new Government has been told.

Briefing papers prepared by a panel of state agency chief executives for Social Development Minister Paula Bennett say inter-agency co-operation is disjointed because of an absence of leadership and direction.

“The combined effect of this has been a long-term under-investment in resilience building, prevention and early intervention initiatives.

“This means we are spending more on remedial interventions than is ultimately necessary.”

Of the $43 billion spent each year on state social services, more than $30 billion was spent on “social protection” – looking after people during times of hardship or crisis.

“Some of this spending could have been avoided if more had been invested in high-quality, future-focused forms of spending to build resilience and prevent problems escalating and becoming entrenched,” the papers said.

Included in the amount was about half a billion dollars spent annually on obesity-related healthcare costs, the $894 million spent this year on the rising prison population and $380 million spent on child and youth care and protection.

The briefing also predicted that demand for social services would increase, as an aging population and low standards of living in Maori and Pacific Island communities placed greater demand on state resources. This could be exacerbated by tax cuts planned by the Government.

Ms Bennett said the Government was committed to pulling the most deprived people out of poverty and would adopt a long-term approach to the problem.

“I want to make sure the Social Development Ministry is focused on its core responsibilities in the years ahead, in particular those families stuck in long-term poverty. I don’t underestimate the challenges associated with this, but I intend to make it a priority.”

She was also concerned that no single government agency had clear accountability for good parenting.

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