Putting wellbeing back into welfare: Exploring social development from beneficiaries' perspectives
New Zealand implemented the first definitive welfare state in 1938, institutionalising the responsibility held by the state to protect citizens and uphold their wellbeing. Since then, the swift and pervasive implementation of neoliberal reforms in New Zealand have transformed the social development landscape, and the wider economic setting. New Zealand is now in the midst of unprecedented levels of inequality and child poverty. Yet in the face of increasing hardship, the welfare system has become increasingly residual and punitive towards those in need.
The most recent overhaul of the welfare system occurred in July 2013. These reforms came with a marked push toward reducing benefit recipient numbers, evidenced in the use of off-the-benefit figures as a measure of a successful system. However, this narrative obscures the experiences and wellbeing of people behind these figures, which is particularly problematic given the increased employment instability and financial insecurity fostered by the current labour market. This thesis aims to explore the experiences of those who have come off the benefit since July 2013, either temporarily or permanently, in order to understand how the current welfare system is impacting those it is intended to support.
In order to best capture the voices of former and current beneficiaries, this thesis utilised a mixed methods approach. A survey was conducted to identify patterns and trends from the voices of over 200 participants. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to enrich the quantified results, and understand the narratives and experiences of individuals in more depth. By drawing on a post-development framework, this thesis works toward creating a space for an alternative discussion around welfare that goes beyond the hegemony of economic-centric dialogues. The findings suggest that the welfare system is failing to adequately support those facing hardship or facilitate positive off-the-benefit transitions. Instead, it is fostering the neoliberal assault on citizenship and social rights, and deepening the growing inequalities within New Zealand society.