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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Unlike the longer established communities of Europe and North America, New Zealand has developed, usually for practical rather than theoretical reasons, a system of social services which is basically State controlled. Only recently, and in the face of varied difficulties, have voluntary organisations begun to play an extensive and really significant part in the total structure of the welfare services. As pointed out above, the services available have been very largely economic in character, or have been mainly concerned, in the case of services for children, in providing a more suitable environment for neglected, deprived, and delinquent children. Only very recently have the personal, emotional, and other intangible aspects of the problems received much attention, from either the statutory or voluntary services. This development relies upon a body of trained, specialist staff, the lack of which has proved a considerable handicap. Victoria University of Wellington established a professional training course for social workers at the School of Social Science in 1950, but the number of trained workers still falls far short of requirements, while there is a serious lack of specialists in many associated fields, such as clinical psychology, child psychiatry, and play therapy. Most of the available services, therefore, function at well below optimum standards. The recent development, by which training facilities are provided for marriage counsellors under the auspices of the Department of Justice, is an encouraging innovation but does not meet the need for specialists of fully professional status within the social services generally. For instance, greatly increased sums of money have been made available from both State and private sources during recent years for the care of the aged, and voluntary bodies have been encouraged even to the extent of having the whole cost of erecting their institutions met by the State. As a result of such measures, problems of accommodation and physical care of the aged have been greatly eased in most districts, but it is unusual for organisations operating even extensive services for the aged to employ trained social workers or other specialist staff. Rehabilitation services for the aged are almost completely lacking, and, in strange contrast to the liberal assistance given for the provision of physical care and accommodation, very little help or encouragement is given towards employing or training specialist staff concerned with the personal and social problems of old people.

The somewhat piecemeal and haphazard way in which the State services have developed, together with the structure of the Public Service which administers them, has led to another set of complications. The State welfare services are fragmented into a large number of relatively small units whose functions are determined more by the traditional interests of Public Service Departments and by historical accident, than by the present-day nature of the problems to be solved. The result is that many people needing assistance for individual or family problems are able to obtain the necessary services only by approaching two or more Departments. Thus the Education and Health Departments are each partially responsible for services for physically and mentally handicapped children, while Social Security and Health Departments both provide services for the aged. Until the passing of the State Services Act of 1962, Public Service rules and practices made it almost impossible for the various services to be examined as a whole, or coordinated in any but the most superficial fashion, and no reorganisation or reform of the total system could originate at any level below that of Cabinet. Research into the overall functioning and effectiveness of the social welfare services was virtually impossible from within the Public Service. Although such reviews and reorganisation are now legally possible, it is probable that the necessary administrative arrangements could be made at this stage only with considerable difficulty.

The absence of opportunity for a general overview, together with the largely economic nature of the welfare services, has inevitably provided a temptation, which has not always been successfully resisted, for politicians to devise changes in the services with an eye to electoral advantage rather than the most effective development of the system. On the whole, New Zealand's welfare services are an odd mixture of planning and chaos, of economic generosity and restriction on skill, of rapid advances in some fields, and inadequate development in others. The concept of the welfare State is so deeply ingrained in the New Zealand culture that one cannot imagine its being given up; indeed, all political parties are committed to maintaining it. The proportion of the national income that the community is prepared to devote to welfare is impressive. The main lack lies in the failure to attempt any kind of comprehensive plan to ensure that the resources available are used with the utmost efficiency and flexibility. The potentially adventurous developments are severely restricted by long outmoded forms of organisation and administration.

by James Harding Robb, M.A.(N.Z.), B.SC.ECON., PH.D.(LOND.), Associate Professor, School of Social Science, Victoria University of Wellington.

  • The Welfare State in New Zealand, Condliffe, J. B. (1959)
  • Welfare in New Zealand Scott, K. J. (ed.), (1955)
  • The Decentralisation of Government Administration in New Zealand, Roberts J. L. (ed.), 1961
  • Poverty and Progress in New Zealand, Sutch, W. B. (1941)
  • The New Dominion – a social and political history of New Zealand, 1918 to 1939, Burdon, R. M. (1965).