Today’s welfare system is the product of decades of change, some ad hoc and incremental, some radical. It reflects the changing shape of New Zealand society and changing policy frameworks.


Old Age Pensions Act established


Social Security Act formed, the beginning of the modern Welfare State


A Royal Commission was established to examine the principles and payments of the social security system


The Royal Commission on Social Security envisioned a generous welfare  state, it did not see the economic changes coming


The stability of the post-war period began to unravel. Economic and social changes placed increasing strain on the welfare system


A series of wideranging economic reforms shifted NZ from being one of the most regulated countries in the developed world to one of the least regulated


Royal Commission on Social Policy report stated the key principles of social security included:

  • Ensure all New Zealanders have access to a sufficient share of income
    and other resources to allow them to participate in society with genuine
    opportunity to achieve their potential and to live lives they find fulfilling
  • Relieve immediate need 
  • Ensure the well-being and healthy development of all children
  • There was never a government response to this report, so it made no
    changes to the system


Social assistance: Welfare the Works

  • Welfare would be a safety net for those who could demonstrate genuine need 
  • It aimed to “strike a new balance between the state’s responsibility
    for the citizen and the citizen’s responsibility for their lives and
    those of their families”

1990s onwards

Social assistance became targeted and more conditional

  • Focus on reducing benefit dependency and increasing the number in work
  • Emergence and expansion of increasingly targeted Supplementary Assistance Programmes
  • Increase in financial hardship and a greater mandatory use of budgeting services
  • Anti-fraud measures in the welfare system became prominent


Social development

Government aimed to replace social welfare with social development

  • An active partnership between the state and people on benefits, with
    new rights and responsibilities
  • Strong focus on improving employment
    outcomes and reducing poverty


2012/2013 Welfare Reform Package

  • Aim to reduce long-term benefit dependency.
  •  Introduced three new benefits to replace existing main benefits,
    obligations and sanctions extended and changes to the way the Ministry of Social Development operated to help reduce welfare dependency

Download this page

Download this page as a factsheet [PDF, 39 KB]

Last modified: