Part 3: How well the public sector is improving the lives of New Zealanders

Draft annual plan 2022/23.

Looking at how well the public sector spends money to provide the support and services that will improve the lives of New Zealanders is a priority for our work programme. In 2022/23, our work will focus on:

  1. Covid-19 response and recovery;
  2. family violence and sexual violence;
  3. housing outcomes;
  4. education outcomes;
  5. health outcomes;
  6. efforts to reduce child poverty; and
  7. effectiveness of immigration processes.

In this Part, we describe each of these and the details of our work.

1. Covid-19 response and recovery

In 2020/21, we started a multi-year programme of work to review the effectiveness of the Government’s response to, and New Zealand’s recovery from, the Covid-19 pandemic. This has included:

  • work on personal protective equipment;
  • the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out;
  • the wage subsidy scheme;
  • inquiry work on matters such as the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme; and
  • several reports on Covid-19 related spending as part of our Controller function.

In 2021/22, we expect to complete our work on the central response in 2020 to the Covid-19 pandemic. We also expect to complete a final review of the vaccine roll-out, with a focus on how well equity issues were addressed.

Proposed work: Examination of equity initiatives in the Covid-19 Vaccination Programme
We have previously reported on preparations for the nationwide roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine and on the implementation of the recommendations we made in that report. During that work, it was clear that there were considerable efforts and investments made in the Covid-19 Vaccination Programme to support equity of access for different population groups, including for Māori, Pasifika, and disabled people. Although the Covid-19 Vaccination Programme has achieved high levels of vaccination coverage for the population as a whole, there are groups within the population with lower levels of vaccination coverage.

We intend to examine the effectiveness of the Covid-19 Vaccination Programme in meeting its equity objectives. Where possible, we intend to identify effective practices that might be useful for supporting equity of access in other aspects of the Covid-19 response or in other public services.

Depending on how the Covid-19 situation evolves, we might look at other aspects of the response or at how the Government is planning for a post-Covid-19 environment. We will watch developments and may reprioritise our work to respond to emerging issues of public interest.

2. Family violence and sexual violence

Preventing and eliminating family violence and sexual violence is a priority for the Government.

In 2019/20, we started a multi-year programme of work to examine what public organisations have done to reduce family violence and sexual violence. We reported on a joint venture between government agencies and published a literature review. Before the end of 2021/22, we will begin looking at how the joint venture (now reshaped as the Executive Board for the Elimination of Family Violence and Sexual Violence) is working with the non-government sector. In 2022/23, we expect to complete this work.

Proposed work: How well are agencies working together and with the non-government sector to meet the needs of people affected by family violence and sexual violence?
In 2022/23, we expect to complete the audit we will start before the end of 2021/22. This audit focuses on how well government agencies are working together, with non-governmental organisations, and with others to understand the needs of those affected by family violence and sexual violence.

This work will include how well agencies are working with organisations to understand the needs of Māori communities and other population groups (for example, Pasifika, disabled people, and migrant communities) that can find accessing family violence and sexual violence services difficult.

We are also looking at the incidence of sexual harm in the workplace, specifically the New Zealand Defence Force’s progress on eliminating sexual harassment and bullying in the armed forces as part of Operation Respect. We discuss this work in more detail in Part 4.

3. Housing outcomes

Adequate and affordable housing is crucial for social and economic well-being. New Zealand's housing and urban development system faces significant challenges. These challenges have wide-reaching implications. For example, there has been a significant increase in the number of people waiting for public housing. Some issues disproportionately affect Māori and Pasifika families.

In 2021/22, we began work looking at how well placed Te Tūāpapa Kura Kāinga – Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is to lead the housing and urban development system. Established in 2018, the Ministry’s role involves leading, facilitating, and co-ordinating action by other public organisations and leading the implementation of the new Government Policy Statement on Housing and Urban Development. We expect to complete this work in 2022/23.

Proposed work: Leadership of the housing and urban development system
We expect to complete the audit we started in 2021/22 looking at how well placed Te Tūāpapa Kura Kāinga – Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is to lead the housing and urban development system.

We are looking at how well the Ministry is set up to carry out its leadership role, how well it works with other organisations, and how effectively it maintains oversight of the housing and urban development system.

In 2022/23, we also expect to complete a performance audit looking at how Kāinga Ora Homes and Communities is working with other organisations on significant housing and urban development projects. Both central and local government agencies are involved in planning or funding core and social infrastructure, such as roads and schools, that support these projects. We will look at how efficiently projects are being managed and how agencies are ensuring the quality of that housing. Given the housing disparities that Māori and Pasifika experience, we will consider whether and how projects support positive housing and community outcomes for these communities.

Proposed work: Planning of significant housing and urban development projects
We intend to look at how Kāinga Ora Homes and Communities works with other organisations to plan and implement significant housing and urban development projects.

We are particularly interested in how effectively central and local government interact on infrastructure planning and implementation, especially given the significant additional funding ($3.8 billion) for infrastructure and land development in 2021.

As part of this work, we also intend to consider how iwi and hapū have been involved in the planning processes, and to what extent projects support positive outcomes for Māori and Pasifika. We will also look at how efficiently housing projects are delivered, and what agencies are doing to ensure the quality of that housing.

4. Education outcomes

A stable and strong education system keeps learners engaged, motivated, and able to achieve to the best of their ability. A strong education system provides workers with needed skillsets, supports researchers and innovators, and creates a diverse and enriched society.

However, New Zealand’s education system does not produce equitable outcomes for all learners. Public organisations struggle to address the factors behind lower rates of school attendance and higher rates of school exclusion that adversely affect some young people. Poor educational outcomes will affect the learner throughout their adult life, which adversely affects New Zealand overall.

In 2022/23, we intend to look at the design and implementation of strategies and interventions to address educational disparities. Before 2020, the Ministry of Education was focused on achieving barrier-free access to education by improving educational engagement and learning support for targeted groups of students. The Covid-19 pandemic and its effects, including lockdowns and periods of home learning, might have exacerbated existing educational disparities.3 Not all students had opportunities to study, including access to the devices or internet connectivity needed for online learning or quiet spaces to study at home.

The Ministry of Education has implemented a series of interventions and strategies to support improved equity in outcomes, such as funding to implement Iwi Education Strategies and an Action Plan for Pacific Education. However, the reasons for educational disparities are complicated, and the Ministry of Education is not the only organisation responsible for finding solutions.

Our work will also look at how the Ministry of Education is collaborating with other public organisations to effectively support at-risk learners.

Proposed work: Understanding and addressing educational disparities
In 2022/23, we propose to examine how effectively the Ministry understands and is addressing educational disparities. We will look at both how effectively the Ministry uses information to understand the multiple drivers of educational disparities; and how this information has informed the design and implementation of strategies and interventions to address them. We may also look at some of the existing interventions, how the Ministry is monitoring them and whether they are delivering results.

5. Health outcomes

In 2022/23, we expect to look at the investment that the Government has made in strengthening mental health services. In 2018, He Ara Oranga: Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction reported that 50-80% of New Zealanders will experience mental distress or addiction challenges, or both, in their lifetime. The report estimated the annual cost of serious mental illness, including addiction, in New Zealand to be about $12 billion.

Recent work by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the ongoing work of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, has monitored the Government’s $1.9 billion investment in mental health services. We have therefore decided to focus on mental health services for young people, given their increasing need for mental health support.

Proposed work: Effectiveness of mental health and addiction services for young people
We intend to assess how mental health and addiction services are meeting the needs of young people. We will report on what public organisations with responsibilities for mental health and addiction services understand about current access to services for young people, as well as the extent, distribution, and causes of unmet need for services among this age group. We will report on what these public organisations are doing to address any gaps in care or identified delays.

The forthcoming reforms in the health sector will be significant. These will affect the structure of the health sector, with all district health boards to be disestablished on 30 June 2022. The reforms have a strong focus on achieving more equitable outcomes for Māori.

We intend to closely follow the implementation of the health sector reforms. The insights gained will guide the scoping of our future work looking at the effectiveness of governance and accountability arrangements, and appropriate reporting to communities on progress.

6. Efforts to reduce child poverty

Throughout New Zealand, a significant proportion of children live in households where meeting everyday needs is a struggle. The Children’s Commissioner’s Child Poverty Monitor 2021 reported that although child poverty, by one measure, has decreased from 22.8% to 18.4% since 2017/18 reaching its target of 18.8%, inequalities remain. For European children, the figure is 14.8%. However, 21.1% of tamariki Māori, 21.0% of Pasifika children, and 22.5% of children with disabilities are living in poverty.4

The Child Poverty Reduction Act became law in December 2018. The Act requires the Government to set three-year and 10-year targets for reducing child poverty. It also establishes measures to track progress on reducing child poverty that require annual reporting on identified child poverty-related indicators. The Child Wellbeing and Poverty Reduction Group, in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, leads this work.

Reducing child poverty is also linked to the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy and its outcome, “Children and young people have what they need”.

We will look at progress on the Government’s efforts to reduce child poverty. We had planned to look at this after completing our work on family violence and sexual violence. However, given the public interest in this topic that we saw through our survey (see Part 2), we have brought this work forward and included it in our proposed 2022/23 work programme.

Proposed work: Progress of the Government’s efforts to reduce child poverty
We intend our work to contribute towards the national conversation about what public organisations are doing to address the complex issue of child poverty. There are several elements that we are likely to focus on, including:
  • reviewing the progress and effectiveness of the Government’s initiatives, and to what extent these are making a difference for children, their families, and communities;
  • looking at how effectively public organisations are working together to deliver the Government’s child poverty work programme; and
  • the progress the Government has made implementing its Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, including how information is shared with the public in ways that are meaningful and accessible.

7. Effectiveness of immigration processes

Immigration is important to New Zealand’s public services, businesses, and communities. It provides skilled workers, reunites families, and brings in students and people on working holidays. Immigration New Zealand plays a vital role in this system by processing and making decisions about applications.

The immigration system has been significantly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. To adapt, Immigration New Zealand has had to develop and implement policy at speed. Immigration New Zealand has faced several challenges, including loss of income from application fees, closure of offshore processing offices, and adapting to remote working during lockdowns.

In 2022/23, we expect to look in detail at the processing of skilled migrant visas. We want to assess how well Immigration New Zealand’s processes are managed for applicants in this visa category. The timing of our work is subject to border settings; more definite timing will be provided in our final annual plan for 2022/23.

Proposed work: Immigration New Zealand resident visa processing – accountability and effectiveness of the visa process
Immigration plays an important role in New Zealand. Migrants fill many skill gaps and contribute substantially to New Zealand’s economy. An effective and efficient visa processing service is critical to ensuring that New Zealand remains an attractive place to live, work, study, and visit.

We intend to assess how well Immigration New Zealand is meeting the needs of applicants. We will do this by looking at how well it is managing visa processing for skilled migrants and the ease of engagement, communication, and feedback to applicants. We are also interested in the timeliness of processes for applicants and how Immigration New Zealand deals with complaints.

3: Education Review Office (2021), Learning in a Covid-19 World: The Impact of Covid-19 on Schools at ero.govt.nz.

4: Statistics for the income poverty rate are after housing costs are deducted. The full report can be accessed at www.childpoverty.org.nz.