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Speaker: How is Government evaluating its welfare reforms, and why aren’t we allowed to know?

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  • Sacha,

    When the actuarial approach was first publicised, weren’t there concerns about the model assuming that people stayed on a benefit forever – leading to some hefty and utterly unrealistic cost estimates?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    It’s an easy strategy for reducing welfare numbers and the ‘fiscal liability’. And, yes, it will identify some who could be working. But it also risks shaking off some of the most vulnerable, those without the strength and determination to cling on to the tree however much they may need it.

    This, so much.

    Great post, thank you.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Is there any other way to challenge the MSD decision? Public humiliation might help.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    yes, make it an election issue, as it were..

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • steve black,

    A friend (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) is a professional evaluator. She noted that as soon as the Nats took office from Labour, Government contracts for evaluation work pretty much dried up. One presumes the work was moved from professional evaluators into accounting firms, management consultants, and the economic and actuarial disciplines. Unless all evaluation of massive programme changes was simply thrown out the window to save money. Why bother when neoliberal economic theory proves you are right? Who needs actual evidence from other disciplines? What do "soft subjects" like public health and epidemiology possibly have to contribute? ;-)

    What about also appealing to the Government Auditor on the grounds that if transparency is not there on evaluation criteria nobody can possibly know if the programme changes worked or not? Saved taxpayer money or cost taxpayer money?

    sunny mt albert • Since Jan 2007 • 116 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to steve black,

    Unless all evaluation of massive programme changes was simply thrown out the window to save money. Why bother when neoliberal economic theory proves you are right?

    Could this be the case? That there's actually no evaluation of effectiveness?

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C,

    Quote from the post above: "(NB: Since this post was submitted the ministry has published its “first internal actuarial report produced in relation to the forward liabilities of the welfare system.”)"

    I guess it is this:
    http://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/evaluation/investment-approach/key-findings.html

    So was this due to someone at MSD working on Sundays, or did you (the author) submit this "post" in draft form to them, before publication today?

    As for these welfare "reforms", indeed there is a lot of secrecy about them, and I know a few people who have requested further details by way of OIA requests, and were denied information. One has a complaint before the Ombudsman, which is now under "review" for about 10 months, and they seem to be seeking further info from MSD, who are reluctant to be transparent.

    One request was also for details about numbers of designated doctor referrals, and how many of those were were overruling clients' own (Host) doctor reports. Also asked was the salary paid to Principal Health Advisor Dr Bratt, who is one key player in managing, directing and guiding medical examination and assessment processes, who himself has repeatedly likened benefit dependence to "drug dependence". He is in charge of the Regional Health Advisors and also Regional Disability Advisors in the MSD Regional Offices, and he "mentors" them, and he also has input in "training" designated doctors.

    It seems to me, that the unwillingness to present sought reports, also about the evaluation of reform outcomes by MSD, is due to ideology having flowed into policy, for instance by adopting "findings" by controversial UK professor Mansel Aylward, who developed his research and recommendations while being "sponsored" by UNUM Provident insurance corporation, one of the largest health and disability insurers in the world. UNUM had substantial input in policy development in the UK also, where Aylward was for years Chief Medical Officer at the DWP.

    It is very worrying, that under former ATOS staff member Dr David Beaumont, now President Elect of the AFOEM (Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine), the AFOEM has without much questioning fully adopted the disputed "research" by Aylward, on the supposed "health benefits of work" (in open employment, on the job market). They basically set the framework, guidelines and standards for medical training and practice in Australia and New Zealand.

    Earlier reports by Aylward, Waddell and a few other similar minded "experts" from the UK display at least hints of a bias, where allegations about "illness belief" in too many persons on benefits are incessantly repeated in their reports.

    Looking at Principal Health Advisor Dr Bratt's "presentations" to GP conferences and training providers and so forth, they often contain references to "experts" like Aylward, Waddell and Burton, and present some very selective, at times bizarre data, with little solid scientific basis.

    Hence it seems that the partly ideologically driven welfare reforms (remember the rhetoric from Paula Bennett and others re a "relentless focus on work", and her own references to UK experiences) are stuff that now have MSD worried. The reports and evaluations may well reveal how rather simply COST focused the reforms are, and how questionable science has been relied on, to simply use as a justification of certain measures, like moving sick and disabled from certain benefits.

    Again, like under another topic, I suggest people study a bit made available via the following links and forums:

    http://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-a/

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15188-medical-and-work-capability-assessments-based-on-the-bps-model-aimed-at-disentiteling-affected-from-welfare-benefits-and-acc-compo/

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15463-designated-doctors-%e2%80%93-used-by-work-and-income-some-also-used-by-acc/

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15264-welfare-reform-the-health-and-disability-panel-msd-the-truth-behind-the-agenda/

    Bratt's presentation 'Ready, Steady,. Crook. Are we killing our patients with kindness?'
    http://www.gpcme.co.nz/pdf/GP%20CME/Friday/C1%201515%20Bratt-Hawker.pdf
    (see pages 13, 20, 21 and 35)

    Auckland • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C,

    From the post, regarding OIA response refusal by MSD:
    "Two reasons were given. The first was to protect the conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinion. The second was that because the information is under active consideration the wider public interest of effective government would not be best served by release."

    Hah, this sounds very much like practices common in authoritarian states, e.g. dictatorships, does it not? How do we know it is in the public interest, or not so? Lack of transparency and secrecy do not serve the interests of the public, as this is in an area of policy, that is not about the security of the nation, like defence, intelligence gathering, foreign affairs, crucial trade deals and what else there may be.

    This is a cheap, poorly justified cop-out, nothing else, by MSD and the Minister.

    I hope the Ombudsman does her/his job in this, as we deserve to be informed!

    Auckland • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • william blake,

    Why aren't we allowed to know?

    Immiseration.

    http://www.stateofnature.org/?p=5024

    Since Mar 2010 • 380 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    The reforms are in large part based on a strategy that one previous head of Work and Income was said to have described as ‘shaking the tree’ – imposing conditions and obligations on beneficiaries that make it harder to stay on (or get onto) a benefit.

    Did the previous head in question happen to wear large earrings?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to william blake,

    ...loves company...

    Immiseration

    Surely we have a Minister for that?
    A whole Department even...
    It's their job to be fear!

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    ...happen to wear large earrings

    ... and was last seen abseiling off Column Crag?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Marc C,

    Quote from the post above: "(NB: Since this post was submitted the ministry has published its “first internal actuarial report produced in relation to the forward liabilities of the welfare system.”)"

    I guess it is this:
    http://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/evaluation/investment-approach/key-findings.html

    So was this due to someone at MSD working on Sundays, or did you (the author) submit this "post" in draft form to them, before publication today?

    Yep, that's the one -- it's linked in the text. And yes, I got Michael's text and then a later email pointing to the report, and added the link to the report when I published the post yesterday.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Angela Hart, in reply to Marc C,

    How do we know it is in the public interest, or not so? Lack of transparency and secrecy do not serve the interests of the public, as this is in an area of policy,

    So true, and under this Government we are also unable to access information from the NASCs (Needs Assessment and Service Co-ordination agencies) contracted by MOH to ensure disability support services go where they are needed. According to the MOH the NASCs are community groups and not covered by the OIA. I have a complaint with the Ombudsman's office on this - but they are snowed under.
    There is a pattern of spin combined with implementation of what is essentially secret policy, and it is not confined to the MSD. NZ and AI combine in a single unacceptable word, where is our country headed?

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Marc C,

    The reports and evaluations may well reveal how rather simply COST focused the reforms are, and how questionable science has been relied on, to simply use as a justification of certain measures, like moving sick and disabled from certain benefits.

    If I were to bet on it, I’d say no, MSD are not at all worried about being exposed as callous about the health issues or the ethics of forcing people off benefits.
    Rather I’d bet analysis would reveal the whole cruel stupid exercise has cost more. Just that instead of going to beneficiaries who need help, it’s gone to experts and managers and change consultants.
    Easier to spin that after the election, where it will be brushed aside as a ‘one-off’ cost of ‘valuable structural change.’
    (ETA: the 'liability projections' used are complete and utter tosh. Another GFC, for example, and they'd be meaningless. But you can bet if there's any way to dodge behind an 'expert' it'll be touted the reforms have 'saved the country billions'.)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Angela Hart,

    On a related note, is Health Benefits Ltd just the late unlamented Health Funding Authority by another name?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • izogi,

    I have asked the Ombudsman to investigate the Ministry’s decision. But as the Minister and the Ministry both know, the Ombudsman’s Office is overloaded and decisions take many months

    A couple of years ago, Shane Jones was working on the Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery Amendment Bill. It never progressed (National nuked it at the first reading), but conceptually I think it's a very good idea which I'd really like to see an enthusiastic MP or a future government spend more effort on.

    The idea would let Ombudsmen recover their investigation costs from agencies being investigated, which (firstly) should provide an avenue for Ombudsmen to make sure they get funded to cover its necessary workload, without politicians being able to directly interfere. Secondly, it provides more of an incentive for departments and Ministers to take the OIA seriously and get it right first time, instead of tactically dragging things out and hoping the issue will become irrelevant in time or a requestor will give up through frustration. Some things will attract a certain amount of complaints regardless, but that just means that Department X will need to directly budget for the consequences of what they're working on instead of simply being able to write off those costs as somebody else's problem.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1141 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    no, though you could argue the National Health Board is a successor

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant, in reply to Angela Hart,

    So true, and under this Government we are also unable to access information from the NASCs (Needs Assessment and Service Co-ordination agencies) contracted by MOH to ensure disability support services go where they are needed. According to the MOH the NASCs are community groups and not covered by the OIA.

    They’re not. But NASCs are contracted by the Ministry of Health to perform certain tasks (identified here. Section 2(5) OIA states that information held by contractors in their capacity as contractors is held by the contracting agency. So if its anything to do with their contracted services (as opposed to, say, their internal staff processes), then the information can be OIA’d from MoH.

    They shouldn’t need an Ombudsman to tell them that.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Angela Hart, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    You are absolutely correct but the MOH claims that the contractor clause (which I quoted in my OIA request) does not apply to the NASCs.
    I quote from Mr Hundleby's letter:
    "The Ombudsman's reference to section 2(5) of the Act is correct for independent self-employed contractors to the Ministry who are considered in a similar position to an employee; information they hold is deemed to be held by the Ministry. However NASCs are independent organizations delivering services to members of the public and while the Ministry commission's [sic] services from NASCs, they are not considered as independent contractors to the Ministry for the purposes of the Official Information Act. "

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Angela Hart,

    The Ministry requires NASC agencies to report regularly on services they provide. The Ministry holds that information for services they fund. I don't know about the other NASC funding from District Health Boards, but they usually demand accountability for services they pay for. What sort of informatioon were you asking for?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Fletcher, in reply to Lilith __,

    Thanks, Lilith_

    Auckland • Since Nov 2013 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Fletcher, in reply to Marc C,

    Marc, yes, the Ministry did publish a further actuarial report on Friday, which was after I had drafted this. In fact that report draws a lot on the Taylor Fry data. Interestingly, it has a section called "Off Benefit Outcomes" which I thought sounded promising but which turns out simply to report exit rates from benefit.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2013 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Marc C,

    a “relentless focus on work"

    This, to me, is the brunt. We have the technology to build robots to do the hard graft, we have software to do the number crunching, you can go buy a Rumba to clean your house, without letting one of those annoying poor people in to do it for you. You don’t actually have to work if you have money.
    Nothing wrong with a bit of hard labour, like mowing the lawn on a Sunday or helping a mate build a retaining wall on the weekend, unless you are an Australian, apparently.
    A damned good barn raising can bring people together better than a beer with John Key at a Barbie, but work as an obligation to society? I don’t think so.
    I ain’t no religious fanatic, I don’t do the compulsory guilt of the Catholics, I don’t do the work ethic of the Protestants, I didn’t ask to be born and I don’t feel the need to “earn my living”.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am not a “Bludger", I have skills that are just as important as being able to keep John key’s John clean, in fact between you and me I think my skills are, maybe, just a little more important but John wants his John clean so I guess he should be capable of doing it himself, eh? but perhaps he is not.
    Work for the sake of being seen to be working is little better than slavery, especially when it is not necessary for the function of a healthy society and to punish those unwilling or incapable of doing so is sheer cruelty.
    To each according to his need, from each according to his ability. This is the Labour mantra.
    No disrespect to the Greens but when the Human race has finally extincted itself, the planet will still have its own problems, its just we won’t be there to exacerbate them.
    So, Greens need people, Labour serves those people. National, on the other hand, serve only themselves, not even their children, let alone their children’s children.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C, in reply to Michael Fletcher,

    Michael - Quote:
    "In fact that report draws a lot on the Taylor Fry data. Interestingly, it has a section called "Off Benefit Outcomes" which I thought sounded promising but which turns out simply to report exit rates from benefit."

    Yes, this is totally disappointing, and I challenge the Prime Minister's, the Finance Minister's and Paula Bennett's frequent claims that 1,500 clients go off benefits into work every week (or is it every month?). There is NO proof for that. Many more "disappear" somewhere else, it seems, and there are NO clear statistics, on where they go. Anecdotal evidence tells me, that an increasing number do not even bother applying for benefits anymore, given it is made so difficult to qualify after "pre benefit obligations" and so. Others may simply be disqualified under questionable, "rigorous" terms they apply now at WINZ. So a fair few younger ones may stay as couch surfers with friends or family, or as female "clients" choose to go into relationships of whatever kind, for the mere purpose of getting some financial help to survive. Many sick and disabled, who cannot defend themselves against demanding case managers, as they do not know the law and their rights, will likely fall into categories just mentioned.

    This is by the way, how Treasury seem to be doing their calculations:
    http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/research-policy/wp/2013/13-01/14.htm

    By looking at their recently published MSD "performance report", there are some revealing aspects to consider, like this one, as quoted from below table for people receiving a "main benefit":
    http://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/evaluation/investment-approach/key-findings.html

    "The numbers of beneficiaries in the table above will differ from officially reported figures. The main reasons are:
    Official numbers are reported immediately at the end of each month, whereas the data for the valuation is collected one month after the valuation date to allow for back-dated administration adjustments
    The valuation counts partners as separate clients whereas the official count does not"

    So that basically means, their projected costs for people on benefits count more people as independent beneficiaries, as there really are, as couples will have one person receiving a main benefit at a (lower) couple's rate, which is not the same as having two individuals receive the main benefit rate as independent persons!

    The way they project costs seems to be based on inflated cost calculations, and that seems to be just one flaw in all this kind of reporting.

    The reason why numbers for Supported Living beneficiaries, and deferred Jobseekers (with sickness, injury and disability) may not have decreased as some may have expected, that may be because the reforms are still just being gradually implemented, and have not been applied with the full intended push as yet.

    The following post - including a transcript of an interview with "Director for Welfare Reforms" at MSD, Sandra Kirikir, reveals how they work now at WINZ:

    http://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-d/

    Auckland • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

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