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We propose a holistic approach that places welfare in a wider wellbeing context and that recognises mutual responsibilities on the state and on people receiving welfare support.

No consensus exists on the definition of wellbeing but it is usually considered a multidimensional concept. In its broadest sense, wellbeing encompasses physical, mental and social domains. There is no sole determinant of individual or family/whānau wellbeing. In general, wellbeing is dependent on good health, positive social relationships, and access to basic resources such as shelter, belonging and income.

The welfare system fulfils a particular purpose in supporting the wellbeing of New Zealanders. The most critical elements are to replace or supplement incomes when they are insufficient to enable an adequate standard of living, and to support participation, especially through paid employment, but also in other ways, including parenting or caring for others.

The purpose of the welfare system is to support wellbeing by:

  • providing social and financial security sufficient for an adequate standard of living
  • supporting people to achieve their potential for learning, caring or volunteering, and earning through good and appropriate work, and ensuring a dignified life for people for whom these options are not possible.

Our mandate was to advise on an updated purpose for the welfare system to inform an updated Social Security Act. The Act provides the legislative basis for welfare policy and the operation of the welfare system.

Our proposed purpose is consistent with the original intentions of the welfare state, as expressed in the Social Security Act 1938. These intentions were to provide benefits that "safeguard the People of New Zealand…[and to] maintain and promote the Health and General welfare of the Community".

Our recommended purpose underpins the wider body of recommendations in this report. It requires a significant shift from the purpose of the current Act, which focuses heavily on the welfare system’s role in encouraging paid work, to the exclusion of the system’s core role of ensuring adequate incomes. The extent of change means the current Act will need to be substantially amended.

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