Our social services focused government departments have recently moved to an Outcomes Model. The Outcomes Model is supposed to result in improved efficiency and greater accountability from service providers. This should mean the government gets better value for its investment. Sounds good in theory. However, in the context of our neoliberal political environment, the Outcomes Model has the potential for social disaster.
Neoliberal governments are wedded to austerity and desperate to reduce social spending. It is couched in other terms, but the purpose for the change to the Outcomes Model is clear; the desired outcome is that people no longer use social services.
‘Independence’, ‘sustainable improvements’, ‘social investment’, and ‘natural supports’ all mean the same thing – get people out of the social services system as quickly as possible and by any means possible.
In this context, families sleeping in their cars is not only totally predictable, but a desirable outcome. They are independent, not requiring housing assistance from the government. Strong – it takes an amazing amount of inner strength to house a family in a car in winter without losing the plot completely. And if their cars are parked on the street one could even argue that they are participating in the community and have a sense of belonging. Or if they are in driveways, family and friends are providing ‘natural supports’.
Some of us see it differently. We recognize that in the dog-eat-dog world created by neoliberalism there will be some very big winners. But, as every sportsperson can tell you, for every winner there must be many more who lose – who go home with nothing except a pair of dirty rugby boots and a lot of cuts and bruises.
We expect our taxes to go towards providing support indefinitely for people who cannot be competitive players in the great tournament the neoliberals have made life. We know that if you are too short, too slow, too old, have bad eyesight, poor coordination, are a women, you will never be an All Black no matter how hard you train. We know that only 15 or so young men will ever be All Blacks at any one time.
Neoliberalism has turned our society into one that only works for a very few elite people. Full employment is a myth. Earning a wage that is sufficient to live off and support a family is unattainable for a large section of the population. House prices, fuelled by speculation by those elite high earners, have risen so much that not only is it impossible for people on the median income to buy a house, it is also becoming impossible to afford to rent a house and still have enough to pay for the other necessities such as food and heating.
In this context, having outcomes such as independence, sustainable improvement, and so on, is a nonsense. As is a state owned housing ministry that is required to pay tax to the government and a dividend – to the tune of over $300 million in 2014/15 year. In 2015/16 Housing New Zealand was anticipating a 3.5% increase in rents to meet the required government payments despite a likely zero increase in income for those renting their properties.
The Ministry of Social Development has a wonderful vision, “an inclusive New Zealand where all people are able to participate in the social and economic life of their communities”. It does not need the neoliberal coda “without state assistance” built in. Let’s rename the Ministry of Social Development as ‘The Ministry for Equality and Inclusion’. And let the name be its goal and its only required outcome.
Housing New Zealand needs to adopt the same vision. Housing New Zealand needs to lose the corporate entity and ethos and become once again a bona fide government department, with a single simple goal to provide warm, dry, healthy houses for people in need. Until something is done to lift the income of the vast majority of New Zealanders or to reduce house prices to better match incomes, that will be a lot of people.
Or the government will have to convince us that a car is a “desirable residential property” and living in one a good social outcome. One would hope that the vast majority of New Zealanders will never be convinced of that.