Redesigning New Zealand’s Welfare State — The Case for Radical Reform

The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is committed to leading a ‘transformative’ government. This includes potentially significant changes to New Zealand’s welfare state. The agreement between Labour and the Greens, for instance, commits the government to an ‘overhaul the welfare system’ with the aim of lifting families out of poverty and ensuring that ‘everyone has a standard of living … that enables them to live in dignity and participate in their communities’.

These words echo the goals enunciated by the Royal Commission on Social Security in the early 1970s. But such goals have never been fully or consistently realized. Indeed, for more than a generation governments of varying political persuasions have tolerated a substantial increase in income and wealth inequality and significant levels of poverty and material hardship, especially among families.

To compound matters, our welfare institutions exhibit many other problems and inequities: a poorly designed and unnecessarily complicated system of welfare benefits; a lack of proper indexation of social assistance; misaligned incentives and arbitrary distinctions; inadequate investment in good quality yet affordable housing; the discriminatory treatment of sickness and accidents; a defective and unfair child support system; and inequitable access to primary health care and dental services.

September 2018 marks the 80th anniversary of the passage of the first Labour Government’s landmark Social Security Act. On the eve of this important anniversary, it is timely to reflect on the current deficiencies of our welfare state and how the vision of its founders can be renewed and more fully realized.

This lecture outlines the ethical principles that should underpin any welfare reform agenda, assesses the main policy options, and proposes an integrated and systematic plan for transformational change.

Wednesday 15 August
5:15pm – 6:30pm

Archway 2 Lecture Theatre

Close to the yellow circle 3 on map

Redesigning New Zealand’s Welfare State
The Case for Radical Reform

Jonathan Boston
Professor of Public Policy
Victoria University Wellington


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