National is proposing a social investment fund as election policy, saying it will help identify and fund social programs that work.
He says he would set ‘better public service’ targets to aim for measurable targets for which ministers would be held accountable.
The fund would be administered by a new Social Investment Agency, which would replace the Social Welfare Agency, and would have an annual work program to assess the social impact of government programs.
Speaking to the Victoria University School of Government today, deputy party leader and finance spokesperson Nicola Willis announced the policy which would see the creation of a fund to invest in programs “that promise to change the lives of New Zealanders with the greatest needs”.
“It will start small and escalate over time,” Willis said.
“Initial funding would be provided by the government as part of the budget process and would be topped up annually, including by redeploying funding to any government initiatives that may have received disappointing social impact assessments.”
She said it would offer a range of options, including social impact bonds, social performance contracts “and other innovative ways to invest in longer-term outcomes for people, including getting associating with experts and external agencies”.
She raised the possibility of having private capital invested in the fund as well as using taxpayer funding.
“I hope the Social Investment Fund becomes so effective in delivering results that ultimately New Zealanders seeking positive social change for the disadvantaged may choose to invest their funds there. “
The plan builds on an approach championed by former national premier and finance minister Bill English.
Willis said he will use standards, data collection, analytics, funding, commissioning, and feedback loops to expand the delivery of early intervention programs.
“The public sector has a long history of collecting data on people’s life events, such as education, income, benefits, migration, housing, justice and health. What is perhaps less well known is that this data can now be linked together and analyzed using the ‘Integrated Data Infrastructure’ or IDI.”
She also pointed to the Dunedin and Grandir New Zealand longitudinal studies as other data that could be used to support the funding approach.
She took the example of the Healthy Homes program set up by National in 2013 and expanded in 2016, which the Labor government has consistently supported and expanded.
The program is expected to be available in all regions of New Zealand by the end of the year, and a report published this month found the effects to be significant: an almost 20% reduction in hospital admissions, a 3% reduction in school absences and a 4% increase in employment.
“The return on investment was clear and measurable: for every dollar the government invested in the program, it reaped more than $3 in savings, and more savings should accrue over time,” said Willis.
She said today’s public sector is risk averse and wary of data and metrics that “could make a well-meaning and much-loved idea look like a failure”.
“In some cases there is a measure, but it’s the wrong thing – contract results delivered, boxes checked, number of times the caseworker visited, or fact sheet handed out. , when what really matters to us is whether the program has been successful in bringing change to a person and their family.”