National would create new fund for early-intervention services that wealthy Kiwis could invest in

The National Party wants to establish a Government fund to support investment in early-intervention social services that wealthy New Zealanders could also put money into.

National's social investment approach - which was driven under the last Government by Sir Bill English - is based on the idea that by intervening early to address issues in people's lives, there will be better outcomes in the long run.

It uses data, analysis and assessments to identify and understand the people who need social services and what could be done to adjust the services to benefit them.

Deputy leader Nicola Willis announced on Wednesday that if elected to Government, National would create a fund that would "bring social investment to life".

The initial funding would come through the usual Budget process and then topped-up each year by re-allocating funding that had been going to Government initiatives "that may have received disappointing social impact evaluations".

Willis gave the example of using money from the fund to deliver sustainable housing for people currently living for extended periods of time in emergency housing.

But she also said she hopes that eventually New Zealanders "seeking positive social change for the disadvantaged" could invest their own money into the fund.

"There could be huge power in combining the forces of Government social investment experience with the capital and expertise of the philanthropic and charitable sector," Willis said.

"I want results. If private capital can be better deployed to help change the lives of more New Zealanders, then I will not be afraid to use it. The next National Government will be focused on doing what works."

Willis said traditional Government strategies have failed, pointing to young people ram-raiding shopping malls, the large number of people living in motels, and high rates of truancy.

"National's Social Investment approach will identify, fund and scale up the actions that will have the most positive impact on people in the long run. It will make use of sophisticated data and evaluation approaches to identify what works and, crucially, what doesn't."

Nicola Willis announced the fund on Wednesday morning.
Nicola Willis announced the fund on Wednesday morning. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Willis made the announcement during a speech to the Victoria University School of Government, with Sir Bill in attendance.

She said that while some Government programmes may be "well-intended", they are often not reaching Kiwis in most need of community support.

"Or if services are reaching them, they're failing to have the impact needed. They are, to paraphrase Sir Bill, servicing misery when we want that misery reduced."

The social investment approach, Willis said, was about building fences at the top of cliff rather than funding "ever more ambulances to pick up the pieces at the bottom". 

"It cuts across the normal ways of doing Government, breaks down silos, exposes failure and subjects itself to evaluation and feedback," she said.

"Critics sometimes perceive social investment as an elaborate cover for a secret agenda to dismantle Government services.  They see shadows in the very word ‘investment’, as if anything that measures or accounts for costs imperils our humanity. I reject that view.

"In a world of finite resources, the Government must take all steps it can to invest wisely. For when Government invests well, it can liberate families from challenging circumstances, afford genuine opportunity to children no matter their beginnings and empower people to lead better lives."

Willlis wants ministers to have "clearer definitions  of what social outcomes they hope to achieve", better use evidence, and be more prepared to change how they do things.

The previous National Government established the Social Investment Agency in 2017 to "strengthen the use of data, analytics, and insights in social sector decision-making to improve New Zealanders' wellbeing".

However, the current Government replaced it with the Social Wellbeing Agency. It said data "is just one snapshot of people's lives" and that it wanted to use a "wide range of information" to understand the "wider impact on people when making decisions about services".

Willis said on Wednesday that the Social Wellbeing Agency would be returned to a "fit-for-purpose Social Investment Agency". It will be a "treasure trove" of data that is used to evaluate initiatives.

"It will also have a yearly work programme that evaluates the social impact of existing government programmes with a view to expand, stop or improve them depending on what the evaluation analysis tells us."