The head of the Victorian Council of Social Service has called for the state government to utilise the concept of a ‘wellbeing economy’ to ensure that nobody is left behind during Victoria’s recovery from COVID-19.
VCOSS chief executive officer Emma King told the IPAA Victoria Public Sector Summit on Wednesday that Victoria could adopt wellbeing budgets to help guide its recovery initiatives.
“A wellbeing budget approach would allow us to draw a line under the pandemic, and to set ambitious goals for COVID normal, and for our recovery. Under this model, all branches of governments are responsible for improving community well being through budget priorities, policymaking and reporting,” she said.
New Zealand delivered its first wellbeing budget in 2019, with the aim of measuring and addressing major issues such as homelessness, child poverty, and poor mental health.
For this concept to work in Victoria, the state would need to design a framework that takes into account its own unique social and political landscape, King said.
“In general terms, being a wellbeing economy would require the Victorian government to clearly articulate its goals — social goals — and to match them with concrete targets and timeframes. For instance, by what year will Victoria build enough community and public housing to fully wipe the waitlist?” she said.
King suggested that the state government set specific targets in this way, and only grant funding to policies and programs that contribute to one of the wellbeing goals. An independent monitor could also work with the government to collect data on progress towards meeting the goals, and programs could be “tweaked or scaled accordingly”.
King assured that this approach would not prioritise wellbeing over the economy, arguing that the two “go very much hand in hand”.
“Happy and healthy people, supported to participate in their community to make the economy stronger. A strong economy creates new jobs, which keeps consumers spending high and means more money flowing to Treasury, so the government can fund more programs and help more people,” she explained.
Turning the state into a wellbeing economy would not be easy, but it is within the Victorian government’s grasp, King noted.
With a focus on wellbeing, the Victorian government would be able to ensure the policies and measures embraced as part of the COVID recovery benefit every member of the public.
“We need to acknowledge that COVID hurt the most vulnerable members of our community the most, and they will take a long time to recover. We need to recognise that a complete economic recovery isn’t a real recovery at all,” she said.
“We need a new framework to conceptualise issues and to measure progress. We need to work together to ensure that we can achieve wellbeing for every single Victorian and for every Victorian community.”