When the government recently announced they were going to take what seemed like a different and more creative approach to delivering income support to vulnerable Australians, based on New Zealand's data-driven actuarial approach, I had hope tempered with cynicism.
New Zealand's 'actuarial' approach is supposed to be evidence based and preventative, using data to drill down and spend money up front on members of the community identified as at-risk to reduce their chances of extended periods of time dependent on income support and other services.
As David Donaldson from The Mandarin explains:
"If someone meets certain criteria deemed to put them at high risk of presenting a large burden on the welfare budget in future -- teenage parents or high school dropouts, for example -- the government will be able to spend extra money to help get them into work. So while it may be a significant outlay in the short term, the spending will save the government money over that person's lifetime by avoiding expenditure on things like welfare, prison, health and family services. In theory this also means better social outcomes."
The New Zealand model could be a step in the right direction -- when I visited last year to learn about the model, I saw some potential for benefits. Individualising how we deliver services and support using early indicators of disadvantage to prevent vulnerable people shifting towards poor quality of life and long-term reliance on income support is a positive step. The notion of providing genuine support is a good thing.
From the evidence I heard there is also need for some key strategies to be in place such as a national poverty strategy, quality affordable housing and, of course, jobs to go into.
A half-baked version of the New Zealand approach that hones in on sanctioning whilst failing to broadly address poverty will leave us worse off than when we started. The fear that this approach will serve as a tactic to simply pull people off income support to top up the coffers is a concern I share with social service stakeholders. I will continue to question this as the Australian government pursues this change in approach to our social security system.