Story: Voluntary welfare organisations

Page 5. Second World War and beyond

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Second World War

During the Second World War, collection of war funds and patriotic activity was under greater government control. Those women who replaced men in the workforce had less time for voluntary effort. However, organisations such as the Salvation Army, the Order of St John and the Red Cross coordinated national campaigns in addition to those run by the National Patriotic Fund Board.

Māori welfare organisations

The Maori War Effort Organisation, formed at the request of the government in 1942 for recruitment purposes, became a focus for Māori voluntary effort. It also acquired an important welfare function, especially among young Māori migrating to urban areas for employment. Māori had previously followed Pākehā models of voluntary organisation in areas such as health and recreation. The War Effort Organisation was based on tribal committees, and allowed Māori more freedom of expression.

Although the organisation was disbanded at the end of the war, its success influenced the establishment of another pan-Māori voluntary organisation, the Maori Women’s Welfare League, in 1951. The league tackled issues arising from post-war urbanisation of Māori, including substandard housing, discrimination, and health and education challenges.

New organisations

Post-war years saw the formation of new organisations responding to social or attitudinal changes. Marriage Guidance, formed in 1949, recognised the growing rate of marriage breakdown, exacerbated by wartime conditions. The Intellectually Handicapped Children’s Parents’ Society (later IHC), also formed in 1949, was a lobby group for a previously marginalised sector. It developed into one of New Zealand’s largest social service agencies by the 1980s.

Government grants

These and many other organisations were receiving government recognition and financial grants by the 1960s. Some money came via the state-administered art union lottery, and some direct from government departments. Practical state assistance included training schemes for social workers, free air-time on national radio for voluntary organisations, and help with rents and office space.

From 1949 churches and other voluntary agencies received generous subsidies to build homes for the elderly, relieving the public hospital system of their care.

Closure of institutions

Some voluntary agencies disappeared or changed their purpose over time. Improvements in pension levels following the introduction of social security spelled the end for some benevolent societies, but others survived and continued to provide emergency aid. Changing moral attitudes – it was increasingly acceptable for unmarried mothers to keep their babies – led to the closure of women’s rescue homes. The introduction of the Domestic Purposes Benefit for sole parents in 1973 dealt a death blow to the remaining maternity homes for single mothers. As institutional care became increasingly unpopular, many church-run children’s homes also closed during the 1960s and 1970s.

Women’s refuge

The women’s refuge movement, which developed from 1973 to provide support and accommodation for women leaving violent relationships, is an example of a new-style voluntary organisation. By 1983 there were 34 women’s refuges throughout New Zealand. Originating in the women’s liberation movement, most refuges adopted collective responsibility and non-hierarchical ways of operating. While providing a service to women, refuge volunteers also attempted to change attitudes towards domestic violence in the judiciary, the police force and society generally. Initially critical of the state, the refuges soon became heavily dependent on government funding.

‘Consumer-choice’ organisations

As gaps in the welfare state became more apparent over the 1960s and 1970s, radically different voluntary welfare organisations emerged. Many of these were inspired by overseas movements and were critical of existing state and voluntary welfare services. Women, Māori and disabled people were among those asserting the right to control how their own needs were best met. As well as forming their own organisations based upon ‘consumer choice’, they challenged existing charities to change what they saw as rigid, inefficient and patronising ways of operating.

How to cite this page:

Margaret Tennant, 'Voluntary welfare organisations - Second World War and beyond', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 4 December 2021)

Story by Margaret Tennant, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 18 Sep 2018