Manaaki tangata, Manaaki whānau — the Ministry of Social Development helps New Zealanders to be safe, strong and independent. We centre everything we do on helping people, whānau, families and communities; we work to strengthen the dignity and wellbeing of people today and into the future.

We are New Zealand’s lead agency for assessing welfare needs and providing employment, income support, student and superannuation services. Along with our partners, we play a critical role in supporting people and communities to participate in employment, education, and training and to contribute positively to society. In addition, we manage the Public Housing Register and ensure that people and whānau have access to emergency housing when they need it. 

Alongside these services, we provide policy advice to the Government, monitor three crown entities, and take a leading role in crisis responses, an area of responsibility that has seen increased focus through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our network of locations throughout the country makes us directly available to people seeking our support. We are also increasingly providing remote services – including phone and digital channels – where these work for our clients.

We cannot achieve a better future for New Zealanders on our own, so we partner with other organisations (both government and non-government). By taking this approach we maximise our reach and impact for New Zealanders.

Supporting more New Zealanders through COVID-19

In 2020/21 we continued to focus on helping individuals, whānau and communities respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19. As an essential service, we have continued to operate through all alert levels.

COVID-19 brought about a sharp rise in demand for our services. We again provided support to more people than usual, although benefit demand increased more slowly than we were expecting. We provided financial support to individuals, self-employed people and employers (including Wage Subsidy and Leave Support Scheme payments), and allocated increased levels of funding to community and social sector services to help with demand. Our data and analysis have proven critical for supporting the all-of-government response to COVID-19. We published more data, more frequently, to inform public discussion of the impact of COVID-19 on the New Zealand economy.

Delivering on our commitment to Māori

Te Pae Tata, our Māori strategy and action plan, sets out how we will work with Māori to achieve better outcomes. It draws on the wisdom and experiences of whānau, hapū and iwi who engaged with us in its development and of our people who work alongside Māori every day.

As a Te Tiriti o Waitangi partner, we are committed to supporting and enabling Māori, whānau, hapū and iwi to realise their own potential and aspirations.

We made progress towards achieving the goals set out in Te Pae Tata. A key priority is strengthening our partnerships with iwi. These partnerships have been vital during the COVID-19 response, allowing us to support iwi and Māori organisations to provide services in their own communities.

We continued to progress the two multilateral agreements we lead – Te Hiku o Te Ika Iwi/Crown Social Development and Wellbeing Accord and the Service Management Plan with Tūhoe. Our regions have also been instrumental in strengthening key partnerships with iwi across the country.

We developed a plan to support Maihi Karauna (the Crown’s Māori Language Strategy) to normalise the use, status, domains, corpus, critical awareness and acquisition of te reo Māori in MSD.

Supporting the overhaul of the welfare system

We continued to support the Government’s commitment to the welfare overhaul work programme.

There has been significant progress in changing abatement thresholds, lifting main benefits, extending employment service offerings, indexing main benefits, and removing some obligations and related sanctions. These changes ensure that people who come to us for support are treated with respect and dignity, get the support they need, and can participate meaningfully in their communities.

Making progress on our strategic direction

We continued to make progress against our three strategic documents: Te Pae Tawhiti – Our Future; Te Pae Tata, our Māori strategy and action plan; and Pacific Prosperity, our strategy and action plan for Pacific peoples. COVID-19 even helped to accelerate progress in some key areas, particularly in the enhancement of our digital channels and partnerships with iwi. These documents remain a strong and relevant guide for achieving better outcomes for New Zealanders.

Working proactively to get and keep New Zealanders in the workforce

Jobseeker Support recipient numbers climbed by more than 61,000 between the start of the nationwide lockdown at the end of March 2020 and their peak in January 2021, but have steadily fallen since then.

There has been a concerted effort to provide upskilling opportunities and to match unemployed people to available jobs. This has resulted in higher numbers of people moving out of the benefit system into work than at any time since electronic records started 25 years ago – over 113,000 in total.

Our Rapid Response Teams worked proactively with businesses and employees affected by COVID-19, to let them know what services and support we can provide, and our employment centres supported people in the regions to get and keep work.

We extended employment programmes to give people more opportunities to get into work – such as Flexi-wage, Mana in Mahi and Apprenticeship Boost. Employment programmes targeted towards Māori and disabled people helped improve outcomes for those traditionally disadvantaged by the labour market.

Making income support easier to access

Creating an accessible welfare system is important to us – one that makes it easy for people, families and whānau to get the income support they need and are entitled to. Our COVID-19 response has accelerated our work towards this goal. We responded to the global pandemic not only by implementing additional payments such as the Wage Subsidy but also by reviewing our systems so we could deliver our existing core services more quickly. This also freed up time to provide more employment case management to get people into jobs.

We experienced an increase in applications for Student Loans and Allowances this year, likely due in part to the impacts of COVID-19 – as people who have lost jobs or had hours reduced seek to upskill, and more young people choose tertiary study on leaving high school. Applications were finalised in a timely manner.

Partnering with communities to build resilience

We recognise that, with the right support, communities are often better placed to deliver services for their own people.

In 2020/21 we provided over $258 million in funding to community groups and non-government organisations to provide services to people, whānau, families, communities and iwi. This included additional funding through Budget 2020 and the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund that was critical to ensure our partner agencies and local communities could meet increased demand brought about by the pandemic and response.

The COVID-19 response fast-tracked something we had been focused on for some time – adopting a high-trust model to deliver for communities more quickly. We continue to move away from setting objectives for communities and providers towards working alongside them and supporting their vision of achieving the best outcomes for their people.

The safety of people and communities is one of our top priorities. We continued our contribution to the government response to family and sexual violence as part of the Joint Venture on Family Violence and Sexual Violence, and our Historic Claims Unit kept up its important mahi to provide a way for those who were abused or neglected in care to seek justice.

The Office for Disability Issues, the Office for Seniors, and the Ministry of Youth Development continue to work with their respective communities to promote their interests and enable them to participate confidently in society.

Meeting the challenges of providing housing for New Zealanders

Housing remains a particular issue for many New Zealanders. This year there was an increase of over 33 percent in the number of people on the Public Housing Register, to 29,160. Demand for emergency housing increased after the initial national lockdown but the increase has slowed. However, clients are staying longer in emergency housing and the number of children in emergency housing has increased.

We have extended and implemented new housing programmes, to help people to achieve suitable housing solutions. Our specialist housing staff provide support to help people sustain their housing situation, to prevent homelessness wherever possible, and to respond quickly when families do lose their home. This year we established 21 housing brokers across our 11 regions to match our clients with housing opportunities in the private rental market.

Although our influence on the performance of the wider housing system is limited, our indicators show that we are having a positive impact on those housing outcomes that are within our area of responsibility. We approved special needs grants to help people into emergency housing, provided accommodation supplement payments to help people on benefits and low incomes with their housing costs, developed local housing solutions in Rotorua, and extended Rent Arrears Assistance to help people retain existing tenancies.

Integrating client services to make accessing support easier

Our COVID-19 response and service delivery during the year showed us that we can make quick and effective changes to the way we work. However, it also highlighted that to fully achieve our strategic outcomes we will need to make more fundamental changes to the way we operate, how we deliver services to clients, and to the technology that will enable these changes. Over the coming years we will focus on improving the experience for clients by fully integrating our services across employment, income and housing, and creating more self-service options.

We achieved 84 percent of our performance targets this year

Each year we agree with the Government on how we will use the funding approved by Parliament and on how we will measure our performance. The performance measures and agreed standards are published in the annual Estimates of Appropriations, and may be amended in Supplementary Estimates during the year.

Our performance targets

  • We achieved 61 out of 73 performance standards with targets (84 percent)
  • compared with 55 out of 68 (81 percent) last year.

The Assessing our performance section of this Annual Report gives details about results of individual performance measures. We have included commentary where we:

  • did not achieve performance targets
  • exceeded targets by a significant margin
  • saw a significant improvement or deterioration in performance compared with 2019/20.

The proportion of performance targets met was comparable to 2019/20, while we were still working with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns. We were particularly successful in employment-related measures, most of which exceeded their targets comfortably. The majority of the measures that did not reach their target did so only narrowly.

We also track a number of organisational performance indicators to demonstrate how we are progressing towards our outcomes and impacts.

See here to find out recent results for these indicators.

We used our funding effectively to improve the lives of New Zealanders

Each year we receive funding from the Government to deliver our services. Our baseline funding for the 2020/21 financial year was $36.118 billion (including capital injections).

Our total expenditure for the year was $33.710 billion against a Supplementary Estimates budget of $36.118 billion. This expenditure includes:

  • departmental operating and capital expenditure ($1.499 billion)
  • payments of New Zealand Superannuation ($16.569 billion)
  • payments for the working-age benefits – Jobseeker Support, Sole Parent Support and Supported Living Payment ($6.505 billion)
  • payments for accommodation assistance ($2.302 billion)
  • payments to support those in receipt of a benefit to heat their homes in winter ($0.812 billion)
  • payments to assist people to obtain a qualification, including Student Allowances ($0.607 billion)
  • payments for non-recoverable hardship assistance ($0.479 billion)
  • payments for disability assistance ($0.409 billion).

In addition, there were payments to third-party providers and other organisations and groups within communities to deliver community services ($0.400 billion), and non-departmental capital expenditure on Student Loans ($1.554 billion) and advances of benefit and recoverable payments to assist with hardship ($0.349 billion).

The total expenditure includes $1.205 billion paid in Wage Subsidy and Leave Support payments to businesses affected by COVID-19, and $0.165 billion through the Flexi-wage employment assistance and COVID-19 Apprentice Support schemes.

Total other expenditure was $0.855 billion.

The overall Vote Social Development underspend of $2.409 billion against the Supplementary Estimates budget was mainly due to underspends of $1.013 billion in Wage Subsidies and $0.452 billion in benefits or related expenses. The departmental operating baseline of $1.603 billion was underspent by $0.196 billion, with over $0.031 billion of this to be carried forward to 2021/22.


  1. For another three performance measures we have been unable to state that a target has been achieved or not achieved this year. One of these measures had no target as it was setting a baseline, while two others had a multi-year target set for achievement by 2023.