Sep 14, 2011

Iwi and Social Housing

When the government looks to shrink the state they always pass the ball to Iwi. From RNZ:

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia says iwi organisations would do a better job than Housing New Zealand, when it comes to social housing.

Housing New Zealand is now limiting the work staff have done in the past to help tenants with other needs, saying its role is purely that of landlord.

Mrs Turia says the Government is looking at divesting itself of social housing, or much of it, and iwi should step in.

Iwi are not social services agencies, having said that Iwi do have social obligations to their people. The question is how far do those obligations extend and, in the absence of money and know how, do those obligations still stand? In my opinion, Iwi are obligated to provide the basics. Things like social housing, food banks and traditional education (think tikanga courses etc). Iwi are not, in my opinion, obligated to provide what is traditionally thought of as state support (think the unemployment benefit, DPB etc). I always get annoyed when the government seeks to devolve their responsibilities - it's a remission and, to be honest, a bloody cop out.

Iwi should not be providing services at their own expense – the government should fund Iwi services – rather Iwi should deliver services. However, this is problematic. Firstly, Iwi lack the economies of scale to provide what, for example, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) can. Iwi also lack experience in social service delivery, some Iwi lack proven policy models and Iwi lack access to external agencies (for example MSD can coalesce with the Ministry of Education if need be – it is far more difficult for Iwi to do this). Some Iwi also seem reluctant to launch into social service delivery with many Iwi, most notably Tainui, focussing on growing their asset base. Although there are some exceptions, most notably Ngati Awa.

Privatisation is a great way to shrink the state, but a shit way to achieve positive outcomes. Profit motive should never be allowed to permeate the delivery of social services. The focus shifts from achieving positive outcomes to achieving positive earnings. In any society housing is an essential utility and when housing is, for one reason or another, unattainable, the government should provide a safety net. The private sector is not bound or influenced by any social imperative, unless you consider profit motive a social imperative, and must consider profit above all else. This conflict between social imperative and profit suggests that the private sector is unsuited to providing housing for those who cannot pay market price. This is why I am suspicious of the devolution of government responsibility (i.e. privatisation). However, Iwi are not exactly private sector companies, they are tribal organisations with concrete cultural obligations to their people. This is why I think Iwi will make a good go of it, or at least I hope they will. 

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