Finance Minister Simon Hamilton MLA has said today that he believes that simply throwing money at longstanding social problems will rarely in itself solve them.
The Minister was responding in the Assembly to a Private Members Motion calling on him as Finance Minister to examine how a social investment model could be applied to contracts in Northern Ireland to help tackle a range of social issues.
The Minister has tasked the Public Sector Reform Division to work with other departments to develop the potential for Payments by Results Contracts and Social Impact Bonds for Northern Ireland.
Simon Hamilton said: “Northern Ireland is no different from any number of other states. Grappling with a whole host of longstanding, seemingly intractable social problems. Issues like alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, chronic criminal behaviour, poor standards of public health and underachievement in areas of education.
“Each of these social problems has the ability to destroy lives, wreck families and ruin communities. They cost government an ever increasing amount of money to deal with. Yet, for all the investment we have made down through the years sometimes it seems like very little impact is being made in resolving the problem in spite of the progress we have made. Yes, some individuals do benefit from the help they receive. But others start to suffer from the same issues. And the cycle continues.”
Continuing the Minister said: “We need to examine the scope for new and innovative solutions to our problems.
“We already know of the work of social enterprises, charities, community and voluntary organisations in partnering with the public sector to provide services ranging from recycling to the care of people with mental health problems. They do exceptional work to a very high standard and frequently cost far less than similar but less effective services provided by the public sector. They are a growing part of our economy and are dealing with social issues in ways in which government simply is not able to.
“It is my firm belief that it is time we examined how we could make even greater and better use of this sector in supporting us in government to achieve the outcomes we have agreed are necessary for Northern Ireland.
"Social Investment Models are one such option for creating opportunities for social enterprises and charities and others to not just attain contracts but also assist us in overcoming those longstanding social ills.”
Referring to other regions that have already adapted such models Simon Hamilton said: “This is an exciting and intriguing area of policy development although still somewhat in its infancy. I think that Social Innovation Financing presents opportunities for Northern Ireland to learn from the early adoption by others in Great Britain or the United States and adapt instruments like Payment by Results and Social Impact Bonds to the Northern Ireland environment.
“I have tasked the Public Sector Reform Division within my Department to work with Central Procurement Directorate to develop precisely how Social Innovation Financing could be introduced to Northern Ireland. I have asked them to in turn work with other Departments like Health, Social Development and Justice to scope out the potential for some pilots.”
Concluding the Minister said: “Northern Ireland contends with a wide range of social issues. We should always be on the lookout for new and innovative ways to overcome them. Social Innovation Financing may have many of the attributes that are capable of discovering creative ways to resolve longstanding social problems, switch our focus from inputs to outcomes and prevent problems from arising in the future as well as growing a key sector of our economy.”