Strategising for change – elections and community-based social services policy

Trevor McGlinchy
Executive Officer
NZ Council of Christian Social Services                                                                                                                                                                   photo of Trevor McGlinchey

As we move towards 23 September and the General Election we know that we will have a new government in place. Whether that is a new version of the National Party led government we have had for the last 9 years or a Labour led alliance we do not know.  

As leaders of social service organisations we must consider the likely impacts of the social services policies of each major party as we strategise how our organisations may best respond to the post-Election environment.  In the case of the major parties they both have Community and Voluntary Sector policies. Labour’s policy includes how they would approach supporting social services delivered by community organisations. The National policy was less clear on this aspect so their response to the Productivity Commission’s report “More Effective Social Services” http://www.treasury.govt.nz/statesector/nzpcsocser/response-nzpc-may17.pdf  was also considered.  The approaches of the main parties are identified in broad terms below.

ComVoices has three things they believe would make a difference to the sector.  They are; Make it easier for community organisations to work with government; we need good data – but it needs to be correctly managed; and services will close if government doesn’t improve funding.  The various political parties’ responses to these three things can be found here. https://comvoices.org.nz/publications/labour-maori-party-responses-comvoices-election-2017-briefing-political-parties/ .

While as we have seen – anything is possible in politics, the likely outcome of any coalition deal could see either a National, ACT, Māori Party and New Zealand First group, or a Labour, Greens, New Zealand First coalition.  What may this mean for community-based social services providers?

National, ACT, Māori Party and New Zealand First,

The structural changes in social services provision as led by the National Party is a focus on Social Investment, with a highly-targeted approach to individualised changes.  This Social Investment approach has been embedded in government structures with the establishment of the Social Investment Agency.  The investment they make is likely to be highly targeted, focussed on an evidence-based approach and will be across a range of social services, including health, education, vulnerable children and corrections. The evidence sought will be demonstrating how the proposed intervention will reduce the cost to government of a targeted individual over the course of their life and will require a “modelling” process, including predictive risk modelling. This approach is likely to require the collection of Individual Client Level Data.

Given the Māori Party’s belief in the Whanau Ora, and National’s support of this kaupapa, ongoing support for this approach is highly likely (depending on the Māori Party’s Election success and the bottom-line demands of NZ First).  The Māori Party, acknowledges, “…there is a highlighted need for improved funding for community organisations … to enable wellness in our whānau and communities”.

Overall, under National leadership this coalition would remain concerned with working with the Community and Voluntary sector to, “… ensure New Zealanders benefit from the generosity, expertise and goodwill of our volunteers”.  They would also seek to “streamline the funding application process to reduce duplication time and cost and ensure that the Government procurement practices for social services are consistent, and as easy as possible to navigate”.  As part of its market approach National is also committed to making the operation of social enterprises easier. https://www.national.org.nz/community_and_voluntary_sector .

The ACT Party did not respond to the ComVoices request for Community and Voluntary Sector policies.

Labour, Greens, New Zealand First

The Labour Party are also seeking a structural change to government interaction with community based social service providers. They want to strengthen the relationship of government with the Community and Voluntary sector, and to ensure that NGOs are supported to have a strong role to play in civil society. This will include developing “… more meaningful processes and/or agreements … which can facilitate … government engagement with the community sector”.  The Labour Party wants to “… establish long-term funding cycles and transparent decision making-processes and criteria…” and “… work with the C&V sector to identify the resourcing required to fund stronger networking organisations able to build the capability of the sector…”.  They have committed to not gathering Individual Client Level Data.

In other areas of the community and Voluntary sector the Labour Party will “Reinstitute the four wellbeings in the Local Government Act”.  They see volunteering as having a “… vital role … through their dedication and work and generosity of spirit, which brings huge social, cultural and economic benefits to NZ society”.

In its statement to ComVoices the Green Party states it is “… committed to increasing funding to the community and voluntary sector”.  It recognises the current funding freeze combined with the high and complex workloads on community organisations has resulted in “visible stress” on community social service providers and their staff.

A Labour led coalition is more likely to take a wider community focus as opposed to an individualised approach to supporting community-based social services. Their Policy states they would implement “…funding with a view to creating mechanisms which are more suited to the culture and working methods of the sector, and which would enable community development and client-determined mixes of services”. The Labour Party will ensure NGOs have the right to advocate for change without having their funding or charitable status threatened. http://www.labour.org.nz/publicservices

New Zealand First Party

Within both potential coalitions sits the New Zealand First Party.  Unfortunately, this Party did not respond to the ComVoices call for Community and Voluntary Sector policies. The New Zealand First Party has a Social Development Policy http://www.nzfirst.org.nz/social_development. While this policy mostly covers NZ First’s approach to welfare support it does provide some insight into their thinking around service provision.  This includes:

  • Direct government resources to where they are of the greatest benefit while ensuring they are based on need, not race.
  • Combine all parent-caregiver support programmes under the umbrella of a single agency.
  • Increase funding to Women’s Refuge.
  • Remove barriers that prevent New Zealanders from accessing social service providers and ensure that these providers are effective

So, across the political spectrum the choices are clear.  This is in the approaches used in supporting families so fewer people will need to access social services it is also in how, if elected, these parties will approach the provision of social services and provide support to the wider community sector.  As part of all our responsibilities we must not only exercise our own voting rights, but also encourage others to do the same. Often it is the clients of our services who are least likely to vote, so please work hard to encourage and facilitate those you work with to cast their vote on September 23.

In the context of planning for the future, the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services in conjunction with Community Networks Aotearoa, is co-hosting the strategically important conference, Empowerment and Success: A positive path for the NGO sector. This conference is to be held in West Auckland in the immediate post-Election period. This will be a critical time to plan a way forward for your organisation in the new political environment. See http://empowerment.nz/.

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network
ComVoices actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.
Click here for our website: http://comvoices.org.nz/