Power and Politics in Social Policy Reform: The Case of State Housing in New Zealand

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Jordan KING, University of Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand’s centrally administered housing programme for low income and vulnerable citizens (‘State Housing’) has been a core part of the welfare state since the 1930s. Recent reforms have transformed the programme into a new ‘quasi-market’ system where the government provider now competes with community housing providers for tenants and funding. scholars have questioned the economics of the reforms (Dykes 2016) and questioned the efficacy their efficacy in a time of increasing housing scarcity (Howden-Chapman & Baker, 2014), little attention has focused on the provenance of the reforms. My paper addresses why and how the reform agenda was pursued by the New Zealand government with special attention paid to the political interactions of actors inside and outside of the state. The ‘policy worlds’ approach outlined by Shore and Wright (1997, 2011) provides an interpretivist perspective for analysing the myriad strands and connections of people, ideas, and spaces that interact in a policy field with the ‘aim to deconstruct policy in order to reveal patterns and processes in the organisation of power in society’ (Shore and Wright, 2011: 4). This necessitates tracing key ideas and arguments across multiple sites of activity through the analysis of materials with ethnographic value (including documents, interviews, newspaper articles, parliamentary proceedings). In my paper I apply this approach to examine the use of narratives and modes of political organisation used by key actors inside and outside of government in the development of the reform agenda. I argue that the political claims of a fledgling NGO housing sector seeking a greater role in the housing system elided comfortably with a Treasury and Cabinet agenda to consider new models while seeking overall to minimise the fiscal impact of the existing programme. The paper sheds new light on a major area of social policy reform in New Zealand.