Academic journal article Social Policy Journal of New Zealand

Extended Family Support, the State and Policy: Assumptions, Attitudes and Actualities(1)

Academic journal article Social Policy Journal of New Zealand

Extended Family Support, the State and Policy: Assumptions, Attitudes and Actualities(1)

Article excerpt


In recent years in New Zealand economic policy has dominated social policy as we have moved away from the welfare state to an increasingly market-based society. In the area of social support, this involves increasing reliance on the self or one's family where neither the market nor the state are providing. There are numerous indications of this in policy documents in the areas of welfare (Children Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989, Dept Social Welfare 1996a, 1996b, Shipley et al. 1991), health (Upton 1991, Shipley and Upton 1992, Ministry of Health 1994a, 1994b, 1996, 1997a, 1997b, Central Regional Health Authority 1996, Boddy 1992, Mental Health Services Research Consortium 1994, Mental Health Commission 1997, Belgrave and Brown 1997, Moore and Tennant 1997) and education (Education (Student Allowances) Notice, New Zealand Regulations 1997/51), as well as general commentaries (Kelsey 1993, Cheyne et al. 1997, New Zealand Treasury 1991).

For example, in 1991 the Ministers of Social Welfare, Health, Housing and Education in a joint document stated that a major element of their new policy initiatives is "to encourage people to move from state dependence to personal and family self-reliance" (Shipley et al. 1991:17). Specific instances include the continuance of family income testing for single students aged up to 25 years, and the 1996 post-election briefing papers on "strengthening families" and the Children Young Persons and Their Families Act's inclusion of the extended family or kinship groups.

Such policy relies on assumptions about the existence and operation of families that may not be based on the reality of how families in New Zealand function today, or in keeping with the belief systems of members of our society about the role of the family. It is important to know whether our families are able to fulfil this support role or, indeed, whether they accept it. Without both availability and willingness of family support, policies may be ineffective and result in vulnerable people falling through the cracks.

In 1984, New Zealand sociologists Koopman-Boyden and Scott concluded that:

   Cutbacks in government expenditure carry the implicit assumption that
   families will take over; but it could well happen that no-one takes that
   responsibility, and that the quality of life is thereby the poorer.

If policy makers can identify what families are unable and unwilling to provide, state resources could then be targeted to complementing informal support.

This paper discusses theoretical models of roles of the state, the market and the family(2) in the provision of support to individuals, and presents preliminary empirical findings on an investigation of assumptions underlying present policy direction that:

(a) families have the resources to provide support to their members, and

(b) families accept this responsibility;

and explores the areas where families see state assistance as necessary.


The theoretical model or context for the empirical research is drawn from writings on the roles of the state, the market and the family in the provision of support to individuals. Wicks (1988:32) of the Family Policy Studies Centre, London, says that family policy questions need to be considered in the context of three institutions: family (private sphere), and the public spheres of paid work/market and the state, all three of which are experiencing change. He identifies a need, as a result of this change, to "renegotiate relationships within these three spheres".

The issue for family social policy is where the line is to be drawn between state responsibility and family responsibility. Moroney (1976:9) noted that:

   "The structure of the welfare state depends on a set of assumptions
   concerning responsibilities which families are expected to carry for the
   care of the socially dependent and a set of conditions under which this
   responsibility is to be shared or taken over by a society". … 
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