New Zealand unveils first wellbeing budget

By David Donaldson

Friday May 31, 2019

New Zealand has released its anticipated first wellbeing budget, with major focuses on measuring and addressing mental health, child poverty, children in state care, family violence and homelessness.

It builds on work done by the New Zealand government to improve its data on meaningful quality of life indicators, and uses that information to inform early investment that will drive long-term improvements.

“In the election that led to the formation of this government, New Zealanders were asking a core question: if we have declared success because we have a relatively high rate of GDP growth, why are the things that we value going backwards like child wellbeing, a warm, dry home for all, mental health services or rivers and lakes that we can swim in?” said Finance Minister Grant Robertson in his budget speech.

“And the answer to that question was that the things that New Zealanders valued were not being sufficiently valued by the government. And because they were not being valued they were not being measured, and because they were not being measured, they were not being done.

“So, today in this first wellbeing budget, we are measuring and focussing on what New Zealanders value — the health of our people and our environment, the strengths of our communities and the prosperity of our nation. Success is making New Zealand both a great place to make a living, and a great place to make a life.”

The budget contains a record NZD$1.9 billion mental health package, which will include the creation of a new frontline service, and funding to treat the “missing middle” — 325,000 people per year with mild-to-moderate mental health and addiction challenges, helping people to get help before issues become more serious.

The government wants to fix “issues others have written off as too hard for too long”, said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a statement.

“We have so often heard New Zealanders calling for early intervention and investment in challenging issues to save both money and lives in the long run. That is exactly what this budget delivers,” she said.

“I’m proud we’re getting on with the job of fixing really difficult issues like mental health, poverty and family violence because they affect so many, and everyone is better off when our collective wellbeing is improved.

“As a country, we just haven’t seen the kind of investment in mental health that reflects how serious an issue it is — all of us know someone suffering from depression or other mental illness. Today’s investment of over a billion dollars into mental health will transform the way Kiwis access mental health services, but also try and prevent people from needing services in the first place.”

The wellbeing budget “shows you can be both economically responsible and kind,” Arden stated.

Victorian Treasury Secretary David Martine said earlier this week his department has been looking at New Zealand’s efforts to decrease long term costs by investing early in disadvantaged people but said the benefits are difficult to measure.

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