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‘Bringing families up to scratch’: The Distinctive Workings of Maori State Welfare, 1944–1970.

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New Zealand Journal of History, 36(2), 161-184

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Labrum's article offers an analysis of state welfare programs in New Zealand, with a particular focus on their impact on Māori families during the mid-20th century, spanning from 1944 to 1970.

This era is pivotal in understanding the development of New Zealand’s social welfare history. The article is distinguished by its thorough examination of the interplay between race, family, and state welfare policies, especially in terms of the unique ways Māori families were targeted and influenced by these policies. The research is grounded in a detailed analysis of historical documents, case studies, and archival materials, enabling Labrum to provide a nuanced understanding of the welfare system’s impact on Māori communities. The article illuminates the complexities and challenges faced by Māori families within the broader context of New Zealand’s social welfare history. Labrum’s work is significant for its exploration of the wide range of needs and desires covered by Māori welfare services. The article emphasises the malleable nature of ‘need’ for Māori, heavily influenced by their marked disadvantage relative to the Pakeha population. This disadvantage was linked to poorer material conditions such as housing, income, assets, and access to education and jobs. The state assistance had a notably larger positive effect on Māori due to these conditions. The article also discusses the different perceptions of ‘need’ between Pakeha and Māori welfare officers, highlighting the continuous struggle of individual Māori to establish entitlement and legitimate need. The cultural differences between Māori and the welfare state, which was based on Pakeha familial models, are also explored. Labrum notes the unique relationship of Māori families to the state and their distinct definition of ‘welfare’ compared to Pākehā. Furthermore, the article examines the role of Māori welfare officers in the Department of Māori Affairs as mediators and ‘go-betweens’, often demonstrating a greater amount of paternalism in casework relationships. This paternalism was intertwined with a broader ideology of integration and a sense of responsibility for Māori as a group. In conclusion, Labrum’s article provides valuable insights into the socio-political dynamics of the era and contributes to a deeper understanding of the historical relationship between the Māori population and the New Zealand state.

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