Recently I accompanied the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, and Opposition Social Development Spokesperson Louise Upston on a visit to the Integrated Safety Response (ISR) pilot programme in Christchurch. This programme was one of the initiatives that I established when I was Justice Minister and is a rapid collaborative response to family violence coordinated by the Police and involving health providers, NGOs and social agencies.
The evidence shows that this programme is working. A recent evaluation found that victims reported significant reductions in exposure to all forms of family violence after involvement in the ISR programme. Particularly heartening for me is a reported 48% relative reduction in children witnessing or being exposed to family violence for those involved in the programme.
I believe this is hugely important – everyone should have the right to be safe in their home and within their family. However, this is not currently the case here in New Zealand, where police respond to a family violence incident every seven minutes.
This programme is an example of social investment. Social investment is about ensuring spending is focussed on targeted interventions that strike at the heart of the issues affecting people’s lives and that tackle the root causes not just the symptoms.
Agencies working together is also a key part of National’s social investment approach.
I get very frustrated when I read or hear comments about social investment being all about cutting costs. I’ll make no bones about it - the ISR programme I mentioned above is intensive and expensive. However, a cost benefit analysis has found that the avoided social cost of family violence is 3.2 times the investment. If the effects of ISR on family violence persist for 10 years instead of 5 years, the benefit to cost ratio increases to 5.2.
What this means is that by investing money up front to tackle the drivers of family violence head on, we not only change lives and make those at risk safer, we also avoid incurring the future costs associated with ongoing family violence. Instead of being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, if we invest in programmes with proven results we can turn the situation around before we get to that point.
This is why National has announced our intention to invest further to extend the ISR initiative to more communities. This announcement was part of the launch of our social services discussion document, which outlines our thinking on a whole range of social policy issues.
The social investment approach has so much potential to transform the lives of individuals and their families. It is about taking an evidence-based approach, using data and analytics to direct specific help to those who are most in need.
National took this approach in government, and it was working. For instance, we know that 70 per cent of the children known to the care and protection system will be on a benefit by age 21 and this cohort is nine times more likely than others to go to prison in their lifetime. If we can intervene early with these children, we have a better chance of avoiding these outcomes and changing the course of their lives.