The Wellbeing Budget

Well, it has arrived. The world’s first Wellbeing Budget. The groundbreaking budget format that was supposed to have the world sit up and take notice. I am reeling with the uniqueness and diversity of it all.

No, I’m not. I’m completely underwhelmed.

First, the basics.

  • $1.9 billion for mental health, over 4 years
  • $1.2 billion for new schools and classrooms, over 10 years
  • $1 billion to Kiwirail, and an additional $405 million for Auckland’s City Rail Loop
  • $1.1 billion in additional funding over 4 years for children leaving state care
  • $535 million over 4 years to index benefits to wage increases
  • $266 million over 4 years to replace school donations
  • $197 million for Housing First to provide 1044 more units
  • $229m for a sustainable land use package to invest in projects for farmers to use land better and clean up waterways.
  • Also $33.5m into two new climate change research initiatives
  • $168 million for gun buyback
  • $80 million extra over four years for Whanau Ora
  • $300m fund for business start-ups to draw on (from existing funding) 

Despite all the hype, this looks like a fairly normal budget to me. The government is relying on a surplus of $3.5 billion for the current financial year but then assumes the surplus will fall considerably, to $1.4 billion in the 2020 year.

There are a few areas of concern. Firstly, the amount for gun buybacks looks grossly underestimated to me. Nobody really knows what the numbers are, but they are likely to be much higher than this. If you bear in mind that the illegal weapons are expected to be handed in sooner rather than later, it is reasonable to assume that the full amount is being covered in this budget. I suggest $168 million will not be nearly enough.

Schools will still be allowed to collect donations from parents, so this is just a little bit of extra education funding. This is not a new policy, but is actually an election promise by Labour now being carried out. Watch out though. Most parents will not be willing to pay donations once it is clear that the government is funding them, and $266 million is not a lot for that either.

$1 billion to Kiwirail is a drop in a bucket. It sounds like a lot, and if the intention is to get freight off the roads and onto rail, then good on them, but it won’t be enough. Kiwirail has always been a big hole to throw money into. Even $1 billion will not plug that hole.

$197 million to provide 1044 more units for homeless people doesn’t sound like a lot, but even if the numbers are accurate (as of today), all the same problems still exist… no land, the cost and time involved in obtaining permits and the issues around finding tradespeople to do the work. Ask Phil Twyford. He understands this very well.

I am really opposed to index linking benefits to wages. As the economy slows, it may not make much difference, but we should not be encouraging people to sit on the dole. This policy does exactly that, and with guaranteed increases in the minimum wage through to 2021, beneficiaries are guaranteed pay increases as well. It is madness.

The talk all through the budget presentation was about ‘wellbeing’ but really this is a typical socialist budget. It ignores taxpayers and provides extra support to those who do nothing. There is nothing unusual and nothing special about it.

Notably, there is no wellbeing for teachers or midwives, and no wellbeing for superannuitants either… not even free health funding for seniors, which is a promise that Winston made at the last election too.

All in all, there is little or nothing in the ‘wellbeing’ budget for most New Zealanders.

So the Wellbeing Budget is just another slogan. Like ‘9 years of neglect’ or “Let’s Do This’.