Is it possible for the government to set out a list of targets for the public service that are both worthy and meaningless at the same time? That seems to have been the tone of debate around National’s latest Better Public Services announcement. There aren’t really any targets in there that anyone would disagree with, but it ain’t the ambitious ‘brighter future’ government John Key promised us 4 years ago. Where is the goal to close the wage gap with Australia? Where is the goal to reduce our overseas debt? Where is the goal to lift wages and create more highly paid jobs?
National’s latest set of targets also look pretty hollow and meaningless in the context of what they’ve actually been doing since they took office. So let’s look at the actual targets and how the rhetoric matches the reality.
1. Reduce the number of people who have been on a working age benefit for more than 12 months
Yet National cut the training incentive allowance to make it difficult for DPB mums to get higher education. 50,000 people have lost their jobs under National, and unemployment has been persistently high. Access to Student Loans has been restricted and they’re contemplating putting interest back on student loans. Lack of jobs is the key reason why people are on the benefit and the Government’s response is “it is what it is” with no sign of the 170,000 jobs they promised.
As my colleague Jacinda Ardern pointed out during question time, National’s goal to reduce the number of people on job-seeker benefits for more than 12 months by 30% means they’re still banking on there being 20,000 more people in that group than there were when they took office. Hardly an ambitious target…
2. Increase the number of young children in ECE
National’s cuts to ECE subsidies mean parents now have to pay higher fees for a lower quality service, hardly a plan to increase participation. In 2010 Key’s Government cut $400 million from the ECE budget which saw more than 2,000 ECE centres have their funding reduced. If parents are to believe Key’s commitment to ECE then he needs to immediately rule out the controversial recommendation from his ECE Taskforce to cut the universal subsidy for 20 hours ECE.
Increasing participation shouldn’t be the only goal for ECE. More bums on seats is good but we also need to ensure that ECE teachers are qualified and skilled enough to give children the best learning environment possible. Nationals ditching of the target of 100% qualified staff in teacher-led ECE services is will reduce the quality of ECE learning and the potentially transformational benefits children can get from it.
3. Increase infant immunisation rates and reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever.
Under National we’ve seen more children going to hospital with poverty related diseases, including rheumatic fever. Overall, hospital admissions are up by 4800 in the past 3-4 years. New Zealand’s rate of rheumatic fever is 14 times higher than the OECD average. Medical experts have blamed the rise on damp houses, poverty and a lack of primary healthcare. This is not a problem the healthcare sector alone can solve.
4. Reduce the number of assaults on children.
On 1 April 2011 Tariana Turia announced that funding from the following programmes had been ‘reallocated’:
- Te Rito Collaborative Community Family Violence Prevention Fund
- Advocates for Children and Young People Who Witness Family Violence programme
- Family Violence Education Services
5. Increase the proportion of 18 year olds with NCEA level 2 or equivalent qualification
This is a long-term goal and a good one, although I would question the assumptions made in the analysis of the current trend data, which seems to assume on current trends growth in the number of 18 year olds hitting the target will diminish. Why do I call it a long-term goal? Because to achieve it we need to look at things like early childhood education (see above), improving student engagement (technology teaching anyone?) and teacher professional development (funding cut under National).
6. Increase the proportion of 25-34 year olds with advanced trade qualifications, diplomas and degrees
Where to begin? National cut the successful Skill Enhancement programme in Budget 2010. The Skill Enhancement programme provided vocational training for young Māori and Pasifika, had run since 1993 and achieved 82% positive outcomes. The number of Modern Apprenticeships has declined 10% in the past two years without any attempt of intervention or support from National.
National has cut $145 million out of Industry Training, money which could be invested into up-skilling young people, but most of which has gone elsewhere. The $40 million Community Max scheme failed to get people into jobs and in many cases created little more than pumpkins. Access to Student Loans has been restricted as well.
7. Reduce the rates of total crime, violent crime and youth crime.
Well, I guess cutting funding for the police is one way of reducing the rates of reported crimes.
8. Reduce re-offending
Prioritised funding to build more prisons (Wiri) instead of rehabilitation programs. 1.1% increase in spending on prisoner employment, rehabilitation and reintegration last year is insufficient address the recidivism rates given the reconviction rate has gone up under this Government to over 62%.
9 & 10. New Zealanders can complete their transactions with the Government easily in a digital environment.
Hardly ground-breaking stuff is it? If anything this is just the government catching up with the private sector.