Slashing welfare a false economy

david-cappoMoves to cut social support programs as part of the austerity measures to reduce debt in some countries ultimately risk backfiring, according to former Social Inclusion Commissioner, Monsignor David Cappo (pictured).

Speaking to Flinders Indaily on his recent appointment as a senior research fellow in Flinders School of Social and Policy Studies, Monsignor Cappo warned that pulling back on welfare systems to save money was short-sighted.

“You are going to increase the social impact on people, you’re going to increase inequality in the community and, eventually, it’s going to cost more to address this inequality,” Monsignor Cappo said.

“The time is ripe, I think, for innovation in social policy because governments are going to be searching for new ways to do things,” he said.

It is a theme he will explore in a new book on social policy, currently in the early stages of preparation, which will draw on his more than 40 years of experience as a social worker and social justice advocate in South Australia.

Grandson of the Italian migrant who co-founded the state’s iconic Cappo Brothers Seafood, David was educated at Rostrevor College and studied social work at the South Australian Institute of Technology.

He practised as a base grade social worker at Elizabeth in the Department of Community Welfare for 10 years before entering the seminary. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1984 (“I still say mass in the cathedral and do the occasional wedding”).

As Chairman and then Commissioner of the South Australian Government’s Social Inclusion Unit from 2002 to 2011, Monsignor Cappo oversaw policies which reduced ‘rough sleeping’ in inner city Adelaide by 50 per cent, raised school retention rates to 84 per cent in 2010 from 67 per cent a decade earlier, and saw the transformation of disability and mental health systems.

“The Unit achieved really good outcomes and the book will examine how we did it, the innovations in governance – the ‘joined-up’ work of bringing together a whole range of different programs in different departments into the one plan,” he said.

It is an approach he is sharing as part of his work as a consultant working with community organisations in Brooklyn in New York City.

“We’re dealing with incredibly disadvantaged communities where there’s 50 per cent unemployment, massive crime issues, people who have given up hope.

“One of the approaches is to target the most chaotic families. Instead of looking at all the problems, you look at the hundred families that are the high-end users of emergency departments, police, courts, all the community systems.

“Some of these families have more than 30 different agencies involved with them and yet most of those agencies wouldn’t be talking to each other.”

Monsignor Cappo said an integrated approach can not only act as a circuit breaker for the families involved, helping them to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty – it made sense economically.

“If you can bring stability to that group, you’re actually having an impact on the wider community. How much money is going into policing, the courts, social services?

“I had a meeting with senior people in the Federal Reserve in New York. Their message to me was that economic and social policies have to come together far more significantly than they have ever done before.”

In addition to social policy research, Monsignor Cappo will teach in the Master of Social Work program this semester.

“I was delighted to accept the appointment at Flinders because I’m in a context here of cutting-edge thinking. There are people in a range of disciplines here and you’ve got a lot of interdisciplinary thinking going on.

“It’s not just social policy: it’s economics, it’s politics, there are all these interconnections here and that’s where the policy thinking of the future is headed.

“If you’re not bringing the strands together, you won’t be able to solve some of the major economic and social problems of the future.”

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