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Source: Productivity Commission

The New Zealand Productivity Commission Te Kōmihana Whai Hua o Aotearoa (the Commission) has released the final report on its inquiry, A Fair Chance for All: Breaking the cycle of persistent disadvantage today.
The inquiry found people experiencing disadvantage and those trying to support them are constrained by powerful system barriers. Barriers include siloed and fragmented government agencies and short-termism.
These barriers make it very hard for those experiencing persistent disadvantage to escape and can even make single-factor or temporary problems worse. Most people can overcome setbacks by drawing on their personal and family networks, and community and government systems. But those systems don’t work well for everyone.
The recommendations in the Commission’s report fall into three main areas of the public management system – purpose and direction, accountability and learning and voice. They are an interconnected and reinforcing package that build on system change already underway.
The main recommendations are:
– Gain cross-party agreement to develop and implement generational (20- to 30-year) strategic wellbeing objectives.
– Establish a social floor – a baseline standard of living and quality of life expected in New Zealand.
– Broaden the values within the public management system to give better effect to te Tiriti o Waitangi.
– Introduce a Social Inclusion Act and establish a Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations.
– Review and re-focus public accountability settings to address critical gaps and ensure they are fit for purpose to address complex challenges like persistent disadvantage.
– Build a more responsive, relevant, and accessible public management system that learns and empowers community voice, and values evidence from people and communities experiencing disadvantage.
– Commit to long-term funding to support more locally led, whānau-centred and centrally enable ways of working.
– Invest in data collection for measuring wellbeing and disadvantage over a life course, between generations, and within different communities.
Productivity Commission Chair, Dr Ganesh Nana acknowledged that systems and society are changing. The broader values and most of the ideas needed to prevent and alleviate persistent disadvantage are already available and present in the system, but they need to be unleashed.
“Implementation of the recommendations in this report allow us to reimagine a public management system that ensures all individuals, families, whanau, and communities, can access what they need for better lives.
“We are looking forward to the Governments response to the recommendations we have made in the report and the ensuing conversations to follow with organisations and agencies to effect the changes needed to the public management system.
“We expect this conversation to continue and broaden with the forthcoming release of the Future for Local Government Review Final Report on 21 June 2023. This report also covers the importance of wellbeing at the heart of communities, of place-based and locally led initiatives to deliver wellbeing, and of creating better alignment across the public sector to deliver for those most in need.
The Commission noted that a generation ago, Aotearoa New Zealand’s public management system was redesigned to address the challenges of that time, and we must once again confront what is not working – and focus on finding things that do work.
“A future without persistent disadvantage is within our grasp,” says Dr Nana.
“By investing in learning by doing, and understanding the lived realities of individuals, families, whānau and communities experiencing persistent disadvantage, and what matters to them, we can build a public management system that ensures all New Zealanders can access what they need for better lives.”
The Productivity Commission was asked to look at the persistence of disadvantage, influenced by the quality of economic inclusion and social mobility. We examined their influence on individuals, different population groups and wider society, and the link to productivity and economic performance to: 
  • generate new insights about the dynamics and drivers of persistent disadvantage, and the incidence/impacts across different population groups, including social and economic factors; and
  • develop recommendations for actions and system changes to break or mitigate the cycle of disadvantage (both within a person’s lifetime and intergenerationally)
The Commission examined from its unique and specialist perspective why 697,000 New Zealanders experience persistent disadvantage. A more detailed report on our quantitative analysis is to be released in late July.
Summary of our findings
Barriers and protective factors exist People experiencing disadvantage and those trying to support them are constrained by powerful system barriers.
Wellbeing, assumptions and voice of future generations While advances in wellbeing approaches are a good start, many of the key assumptions underlying New Zealand’s policy and public management system settings are hampering the implementation of a fully integrated wellbeing approach.
Accountability and learning systems We identify three critical gaps in the accountability system, namely: weak direct accountabilities for Ministers and the public service in addressing persistent disadvantage and the needs of future generations; the neglect of te Tiriti o Waitangi as a foundational constitutional document; and settings that constrain ongoing learning and more innovative and effective ways of addressing persistent disadvantage, including relational, collective and trust-based approaches.
Summary of our recommendations
Build on system change already underway The broader values and most of the ideas needed are already available and present in the system. He Ara Waiora, along with the All of Government Pacific Wellbeing Strategy emphasise collective and intergenerational perspectives on economic and community activity. These perspectives can help balance the overly individualistic and short-term focus that currently dominate the system.
A social floor [1] should be established, and existing work must be progressed and expedited Such a baseline standard of living, which would also need to be consistent with Te Tiriti obligations would give effect to the implied social contract that enables business and economic activity.
Gain cross-party agreement on approaches and long-term wellbeing objectives – It is important to identify where early investment could make the most difference in people’s lives; and to set goals focusing on improvements to address the complex problems spanning multiple domains and agencies.
Legislation and institutions to accelerate system shifts A Social Inclusion Act – alongside, and complementary to, the Child Poverty Reduction Act – would underpin accountability for efforts addressing persistent disadvantage . A Wellbeing of Future Generations Act to establish a Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations to represent the interests of future generations.
Adapt, evaluate, listen, learn, and innovate The accountability and learning systems within the public management system should reviewed and revitalised to encourage new approaches which work across government agencies and hear and value evidence from people and communities experiencing disadvantage.
Collect better information Invest in data collection for measuring wellbeing and disadvantage over the life course, between generations, and within different communities.
[1] “nationally-defined sets of basic social security guarantees which secure protection aimed at preventing or alleviating poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion” (International Labour Office, 2012)