Child poverty - not something the Government does well
By Richard Harman (author)
It's the Prime Minister's personal crusade, but a top civil servant had to admit yesterday that there is very little expertise within the bureaucracy about child poverty.
Anneliese Parkin, Deputy Chief Executive of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (Policy), told Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Committee yesterday that there was not a lack of financial resource across Government departments focussed on child well being.
“So we’ve got plenty to draw on,” she said.
“But I think the task at hand, and what we sought more money in the Budget for, was to build up some expertise, specifically on child poverty which is not something that Government departments have a lot of experience thinking about in a systematic way.
“So there is a little bit of expertise at the Ministry of Social Development that has been built up over the years ; there is a little of expertise in the Treasury, but actually this is not something the Government does well."
Asked by National MP, Alistair Scott, whether the departments themselves would agree with her, Parkin said they would.
This view held within the DPMC may explain why the administration of the Prime Minister’s Child Poverty Bill suddenly shifted from the Ministry of Social Development to the DPMC at the beginning of the year.
But DPMC Chief Executive Andrew Kibblewhite said one of the reasons the shift has been made was that dealing with child poverty was a particular passion and priority for the Prime Minister.
Parkin said the child poverty unit has staff who were experts at seeing legislation through Parliament; “some generalist policy expertise and a bit of technical expertise.”
“We are not looking to concentrate all of the technical expertise within the system in DPMC.
"We are still intending to rely on the Treasury, for example, for modelling work so they will coordinate across the bits of expertise in the system.”
Not only will the DPMC house the Child Poverty Unit but it will also manage the Child Wellbeing Unit.
Last month the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said that as part of the Child Poverty Reduction Bill the Government would develop a Child Wellbeing Strategy that outlined how children’s overall wellbeing would be improved.
Minister for Children, Tracey Martin, said the Child Wellbeing Strategy would be based around safety, security, connectedness, wellness and development.
Parkin said the poverty unit and wellbeing unit would be twin units with the DPMC.
“We are conceptualising the child poverty work as a part of the child wellbeing work.
“So if you think of the child wellbeing strategy as the whole pie and the child poverty dimension of that as one slice of that pie.”
Parkin said the strategy should be able to be published by the end of next year.
“The Prime Minister is envisaging that the Child Wellbeing Strategy will build year on year and get better in depth and complexity year on year," she said.
Parkin said the strategy would be out in time with a “direction of travel' for the Government if it wanted to fund anything in the next Budget.
But Kibblewhite stressed that the role of the DPMC on the Child Wellbeing Strategy would be to coordinate work across a number of Government departments.
“Putting it under the DPMC does mean that we are in a position where we can take a more pro-active set of steps to ensure that we get the action that we need.
“One of the challenges in the DPMC that you face, whether or not it is a priority of the Prime Minister or some other Minister, is how do you get a co-ordinated and aligned Government action on whatever the business of the day is.
“ There is a range of ways that we would look to do that.
“You do it through strategic frameworks that a Cabinet might agree to and prosecuting that down through departments.
“I run a fortnightly Chief Executives meeting where all of them come together, and we talk about the collective priorities and how we are collectively delivering for the Government.
“The State Services Commissioner takes all the chief executives for an offsite meeting for either a day or a day and a half three or four times a year where again we are having a conversation about how we align our collective efforts to deliver on the Government’s priorities.”
Kibblewhite said that child poverty and child well being shared many of the characteristics of other big social issues and they tended not have a natural home in any one department.
Even so setting up a unit like this in the DPMC is unusual.
And Kibbklewhite hinted that there was a strong political reason for it being there.
“Having a unit within the DOPMC, as well as being to concentrate resources means you are mandated to convene and draw people together.
"It is a signal of priority which other Ministers are certainly cognisant of, and other chief executives are cognisant of.
“So you have very willing engagement and support from other departments and in fact from other Ministers as well.”
Ardern has made it clear from even before she became Labour Leader that child poverty was her political passion. That is why she is using the powers of her office to set up these two units which will themselves have more power and influence than if she had assigned the task to the Ministry of Social Development or Oranga Tamariki.
It is a part of the perks of being Prime Minister.