As I come to the end of my internship at the Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit, I find I have discovered three things. The left wing-right wing divide means little in creating robust and effective social policies. There is always an internal struggle when it comes to seeing people struggle and not knowing the best way to help. And in social policy, there is a constant sense of hope mixed with pessimism.
Saying that you’re right wing in New Zealand is interesting because, compared to other countries, I find myself firmly in the middle. The Salvation Army, known internationally for its work to relieve human suffering, is often seen as left wing. But I have learnt that when crafting social policies, the political divide counts for less than programmes that work and this is often not subject to left wing or right wing perspectives.
Working in social policy for a year has been one of my most eye-opening experiences. Witnessing people of all demographics walk through our front doors in dire need of help, having come to this point because they’ve exhausted other options and have nowhere else to turn, is challenging and really impacted me when I first started.
Although coming from a poor and broken family, I found myself in the privileged position of being educated which, I hadn’t realised, diluted my sense of reality. I forgot what it was like to be in a place of extreme hardship, a reality for many New Zealand children.
I wanted to help but didn’t know how. What I could do would not change that person’s situation in that moment. This for me was deeply thought-provoking. I watched hungry children walk in and out of our doors, watched families grateful for parcels from our food bank, and knew they were likely to be back again.
One of the most confronting things for me working in social policy is that policy reform is constant and relentless. The first time I realised this was when SPPU was contacted about a policy gap that resulted in women in abusive relationships being trapped in these relationships because of limited resources or programmes. Policy reform is also slow and piecemeal.
Social policy is a funny thing: you often can’t help the immediate situation but it is fulfilling knowing what you do every day will eventually influence policies that can have powerful benefits for whānau.
My internship here has been a unique opportunity to experience the policy process at first hand, working with inspiring colleagues who meet these challenges every day with humour and dedication. Being able to share in the policy discourse is something most interns don’t have the opportunity to do.
SPPU Intern 2019