Finance Minister Grant Robertson exuded confidence in Parliament on Tuesday that his budget this week will tackle “NZ’s long-term challenges”.
He emphasised “long-term” in answering a patsy question from a Labour back-bencher. He mentioned “a big difference in this year’s Budget“, which is is that “we have integrated evidence and a range of indicators of well-being at every stage of the budget process”.
Hence the Well-being Budget will enable the government “to track New Zealanders’ success on all of the things that they value”.
Robertson reckons for nine years NZ’s long-term challenges — among them, taking mental health seriously, improving child well-being, supporting Māori and Pasifika aspirations, building a productive nation, and transforming the economy — have been ignored.
So how were the priorities to meet these challenges selected?
Ministers applied a “well-being analysis” which involved looking at the evidence to assess where there are the greatest opportunities to make a difference to New Zealanders’ long-term well-being.
“To inform this analysis, we’ve drawn on demographic and other data from the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework dashboard, as well as other evidence and advice from science advisers and other sector experts”.
Data from the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework indicates that, in any 12-month period, about one in five New Zealanders will have a diagnosable mental illness, with three-quarters of lifetime cases starting by the age of 25.
Another example he cited is that, according to the General Social Survey, the material standards of living for Pacific people is around half that of the general population and is a third lower for Māori.
Robertson says these represent some of the biggest long-term challenges and opportunities NZ faces.
Given the frequency with which the Finance Minister emphasised “long-term” in his answer, it may be he is forewarning us that the targets set for a lift in well-being will be just as hard to reach as the targets set for KiwiBuild.
For the fact is no matter how much new money is allocated, the skills and resources required to alleviate issues like mental ill-health, child poverty and domestic abuse are in short supply, both in the bureaucracy and the wider community.