Friday, November 18, 2005

The changing role of MSD

The release of Treasury's briefing to the incoming government has provoked a flurry of stories as journalists have hit the web to seek out briefings by other government departments. The most intreresting of these is probably the Ministry of Social Development's. The media has focused on a few sections of the MSD's briefing [PDF] - a rise in "sin taxes" to discourage alcohol and tobacco use, and a possible reintroduction of work-testing for the DPB - but at the same time they've missed the interesting story: how the focus of MSD has changed from paying benefits to looking at "social development" in its widest sense. Look at the deparment's priority issues: improving education, increasing opportunities, promoting healthy eating and discouraging drinking and smoking, preventing family violence. None of these are really what we'd consider to be the core business of the old Departments of Social Welfare or Work and Income - but they are key to MSD's new goal of improving social outcomes for all New Zealanders. And their preferred way of doing it is by "social investment" (e.g. in education, so that people can get jobs) rather than "social protection" (paying people the dole). They've clearly been reading the good bits of Giddens...

Basically, Labour's creation of MSD as a "super-ministry" has allowed them to take a wider focus on social policy, just as Treasury does on economic policy. And it has introduced real contestability of policy advice. In the past, Treasury has consistently outgunned other ministries because they could afford more policy analysts (cutting their competititon's budgets also helped a bit here). Thankfully, this is no longer the case.


I would like MSD to become the social policy equivalent of Treasury. It would be a good thing to have a Ministry tasked with overall social policy analysis.

When Nats were in, this was looked at as a desirable goal, but time ran out.

To make MSD more effective at this I would spin off the operational side like WINZ which swamps the rest fo MSD. I would also bring under their umbrella the small ministries of women's affairs, youth affairs. They will actually do better as part of a larger ministry that will hopefully attract the top social policy researchers in NZ.

Posted by David Farrar : 11/18/2005 05:29:00 PM

Something we agree on - youth and women's affairs do seem to belong more under MSD than in seperate areas, especially given the sort of work they do. As for WINZ, there are arguments for it being in, while there are strong theoretical arguments for seperating policy from service delivery, in this area it turned out to not work so well in practice (though possibly "not working so well" was "having Christine Rankin as CEO"). I'm fairly agnostic about that whole issue.

One area I didn't touch on in the above is reporting: a lot of the briefing is emphasising the need for better reporting of social indicators, including further development of the Social Report and the introduction of three-yearly strategies and outcome reporting to provide a bigger picture. If the aim is evidence-based social policy, then it pays to have some evidence...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/18/2005 05:51:00 PM

We must not lose sight of the fact that the business of the welfare state is to support those for whom capitalism has no use - the sick, the disabled, the unskilled etc. If the ruling class don't want to pay beneficiaries why don't they invest in their workforces and pay decent wages?

Posted by Anonymous : 11/18/2005 06:50:00 PM