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A future without persistent disadvantage is within our grasp

Dr Ganesh Nana standing in front of the NZ Productivity Commission signage

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. 

20 June 2023

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.”