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Welfare dependence is one of the most pressing social policy issues of our time. Governments in almost all developed countries are presently facing the question of what can be done to reverse the growth in the numbers of working-age adults who are dependent on the state. This question comes under scrutiny in the present issue of the Social Policy Journal, with several papers addressing different aspects of the problem. My own paper is pitched at a general level and attempts to lay out the background to the emergence of large-scale welfare dependence in recent decades and to sketch out a range of possible strategies for reducing dependence. Three other papers examine the issue from different perspectives. Julian King explores the idea of time-limited income support as a possible option for reducing benefit dependence. Moira Wilson develops an alternative framework for labour market analysis drawing on institutional theories of the labour market and uses this framework to examine the implications of a change in the level of income support on labour supply behaviour. And Marianne Bray and Justin Strang's backgrounder on the Employment Task Force describes the government's response to a key component of welfare dependence – unemployment.

These papers serve to prepare the ground for the forthcoming international conference in welfare dependence which is to be hosted by the Department of Social Welfare in March 1997. An insert included with this issue of the journal gives additional information about this conference. It is my hope that these papers will stimulate interest in the topic among the journal's readership and perhaps generate some further contributions for future issues. The journal will also provide a convenient vehicle for bringing key conference contributions to a wider audience. Watch this space.

Apart from these papers, there is more of interest in this issue. The policy paper covers a range of topics, including pensions policy, education, restorative justice and the machinery of government. From his perspective as an outsider, Einar Overbye finds that the New Zealand pensions system does not conform to an international pattern of convergence on dual assistance-and-insurance models, which leads him to ponder on possible future development paths for New Zealand pensions policy. Claire Davison and Ken Stevens examine the role of mobile pre-school units in the provision of early childhood education to rural communities. Paula Martin raises some issues about the appropriateness of restorative justice models in responding to family violence. And Ruth Harrison's short piece about policy making under MMP notes that, while commentators are endeavouring to peer into the future, the machinery of government has already undergone considerable adaptation to the new political environment.

Among the research papers, Natalie Jackson and Ian Pool's extended discussion of substantive and methodological issues arising in the analysis of Census data on families and households makes an important contribution to debate about definitions and modes of analysis of the key concept of family. There is also an interesting dialogue about methodological matters between this paper and another contribution. Mike Rochford, whose prior published work comes in for some comment by Jackson and Pool, has been given right of reply.

Alison Robins continues the journal's past focus on the financial position of households with a paper on the availability of household amenities across different income groups and the degree to which data on amenities can be used to generate indicators of the living standards of households.

Two research papers provide a perspective on different cultural groups which form part of New Zealand society. Penelope Schoeffel and others examine the relationship between child rearing practices and learning patterns among the Pacific Islands community. Hilary Smith examines the process of English language acquisition among the Lao community and raises some issues for policy concerning refugee groups.

Two further papers report on research on the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act, focusing on the youth justice and care and protection provisions respectively. Gabrielle Maxwell and Jeremy Robertson examine patterns of offending among children aged ten to thirteen and ask whether the Act provides an adequate framework for responding to these children. Bryony Walker provides a summarised outline of the experiences of a sample of Pakeha families who were subject to care and protection proceedings which involved a family group conference.

Finally, there is a collection of lively and stimulating reviews to round off the issue. Three commentators, Simon Chapple, Prue Hyman and Bob Stephens, were invited to review the recent book by David Green, which proposed a programme of radical retrenchment of the welfare state in New Zealand. The book is evidently one that provokes a strong response. Ian Culpitt gives a thoughtful commentary on the account of New Zealand's state sector reforms set out by Jonathan Boston and colleagues in their book on public management. And Marianne Bray maintains the journal's presence on the conference circuit with a discussion of emerging global themes in evaluation from the Evaluation '95 conference in Vancouver.

The volume and depth of the contributions make this something of a bumper issue – all in all, just the sort of reading to settle down with as the long winter nights draw in.

David A. Preston
General Manager
Social Policy Agency

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Social Policy Journal of New Zealand: Issue 06

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