Good call for oversight of government monitoring

EDITORIAL

The latest Salvation Army report on New Zealand life is a mixed bag, surprisingly rosy in some of the improvements seen but still with fishhooks revealing how life is for the most vulnerable in society — and a challenge to the Government to have its targets monitored by an independent agency rather than the departments responsible for meeting them.

Last year’s Mixed Fortunes report by the Sallies caused angst here when this district was described as one of the most, if not the most, disadvantaged in the country. That came out in May and was additional to the annual State of the Nation series this latest report continues.

The new report gives the country what might be described as a B in examination terms — a case of “has made improvements but still much to do”.

Improvements include a decline in teenage pregnancy rates, a reduction in infant mortality rates, falling rates of youth offending, some growth in jobs and income, and a drop in criminal offending.

Weighing against that are a sharp rise in criminal reoffending, record prisoner numbers — now at 9300 — the fact Maori imprisonment rates remain seven times that of non-Maori, and that less than a third of all crime is reported to police. Child poverty, categorised as children living in homes earning below 60 percent of the median income after housing costs, remains high and there has been little change in income inequality, the Sallies say.

One major caveat is that it says government agencies are massaging numbers to meet the targets they have been set. Under pressure to come up with favourable results, they are anxious to find any reason to celebrate success or progress. Anyone who has seen television’s Yes Minister will not be surprised.

The respect in which the Salvation Army is held, thanks to the way it continues to adhere to the vigorous Christianity advocated by its founder William Booth, gives weight and credibility to its reports. How the nation is responding to our serious child welfare issues especially should be monitored independently.

The latest Salvation Army report on New Zealand life is a mixed bag, surprisingly rosy in some of the improvements seen but still with fishhooks revealing how life is for the most vulnerable in society — and a challenge to the Government to have its targets monitored by an independent agency rather than the departments responsible for meeting them.

Last year’s Mixed Fortunes report by the Sallies caused angst here when this district was described as one of the most, if not the most, disadvantaged in the country. That came out in May and was additional to the annual State of the Nation series this latest report continues.

The new report gives the country what might be described as a B in examination terms — a case of “has made improvements but still much to do”.

Improvements include a decline in teenage pregnancy rates, a reduction in infant mortality rates, falling rates of youth offending, some growth in jobs and income, and a drop in criminal offending.

Weighing against that are a sharp rise in criminal reoffending, record prisoner numbers — now at 9300 — the fact Maori imprisonment rates remain seven times that of non-Maori, and that less than a third of all crime is reported to police. Child poverty, categorised as children living in homes earning below 60 percent of the median income after housing costs, remains high and there has been little change in income inequality, the Sallies say.

One major caveat is that it says government agencies are massaging numbers to meet the targets they have been set. Under pressure to come up with favourable results, they are anxious to find any reason to celebrate success or progress. Anyone who has seen television’s Yes Minister will not be surprised.

The respect in which the Salvation Army is held, thanks to the way it continues to adhere to the vigorous Christianity advocated by its founder William Booth, gives weight and credibility to its reports. How the nation is responding to our serious child welfare issues especially should be monitored independently.

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