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Officials and emotions

2/4/15 · Posted in officials

Emotions and government officials might sound like a strange combination, but officials are not faceless bureaucrats. They are real people with opinions and feelings. Emotions matter in general and they matter in the public service. Emotions affect our judgements and choices.

Last year, Andrew Power, an Irish academic, looked into the views of government officials in Canada, the United States and England. He was looking at their views on changes in disability policy and the rise of individualised funding. He published a journal article on his findings. The article was really good and shed light on an area that is often overlooked .

Some of what the officials had to say was really interesting and positive about individualised funding, although they acknowledged plenty of challenges. At one point, however, their responses took a darker turn. When talking about funding and the future of government funded services, the officials painted a depressing picture and made some very negative responses. Andrew described the future outlook of these officials as bleak.

One official described the funding situation as a burning raft, stating that a combination of demographic pressure and continued funding restraint would see services decline, the raft is burning and sinking.  The officials seemed to think that funding cuts and declining services were inevitable and that they themselves were powerless to do anything about it.

Emotions, particularly fear, seemed to play a major role in the judgements of these officials. They seemed afraid of the level of unmet demand in the community. Officials believed there were a large number of disabled people currently relying on unpaid help from family and friends. If these people started accessing government funded services, funding would run out. Some officials used the disturbing term “woodwork problem” to describe people in the community accessing their services. Officials believed there was almost infinite demand for their services.

Officials talked about trying to decrease people’s expectations of services and there seemed to be a troubling contradiction emerging. Officials were meant to be improving the quality of government funded supports through reforms, but were also conscious and afraid that this could increase demand.

Now this research was about government officials overseas. There are cultural, social, economic and political differences between New Zealand and these countries. There are also similarities too. Next week, we take a look at whether the issues the article raises are relevant to New Zealand.

If you want to read the article, get in contact with our wonderful librarian.