And how did the people react to the boost in spending announced in this year’s Budget to promote our wellbeing?
In some cases by pleading for more; in other cases, by grouching they got nothing.
But Budget spending is never enough.
Two lots of bleating came from the Human Rights Commission, which somewhat draws attention to the potential for a $15 million a year saving by abolishing the agency – a budget-trimming measure advocated by the ACT Party.
One statement – in the name of Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero – said Budget 2022 has pluses and minuses for the disabled community.
On the plus side,there was considerable investment in the new Ministry for Disabled People and other funding which has the potential to benefit the disabled community. And there was some funding for community-based services which support the disabled community.
But Tesoriero wanted an increase to core benefits, given that more than 50% of beneficiaries are disabled or have a health condition, particularly an increase in the Disability Allowance – especially the Child Disability Allowance.
She was disappointed, too, by the lack of urgency in addressing the high rates of violence and abuse she said are experienced by disabled people.
A second statement from the commission welcomed an increase in the organisation’s baseline funding for the next four years but grouched that the Government rejected a Budget bid for funding to appoint an Indigenous Rights Commissioner to the commission board.
“For three years, I have urged the Government to do the right thing”, says Chief Commissioner Hunt in restating the case for such an appointment.
Empire-building, in other words, although in this case the Treaty of Waitangi can be brandished to buttress the case for a bigger bureaucracy.
Health Minister Andrew Little banged out four Budget statements about his portfolio triumphs and delivered a speech.
“The record $1.8 billion funding boost in this budget clears the financial deck so Health New Zealand and the Māori Health Authority can have a clean start.
“A system that supports our medical staff to deliver better care for patients will be a system that supports all New Zealanders and our economy.”
But an outfit called ProCare said it was disappointed primary care nurses have been left out.
Gabrielle Lord, Nursing Director and General Manager Practice Services at ProCare, says:
“Nurses have been the backbone of caring for patients while we’ve dealt with the global pandemic over the last two years, so to see no additional funding for this imperative part of our healthcare workforce is devastating.
“This is even more true when you consider the state of the ongoing pay equity settlements,” she points out.
“We urgently need more money for our nurses, and they need to be paid the same rate as their DHB colleagues.”
Pharmac welcomed the $191 million increase to its pharmaceutical budget over the next two years and said it was already working its way through the medicines options for investment list, looking at what agreements it can now make with pharmaceutical suppliers.
But Justine Smyth, Chair of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, said the Budget had let down the women of New Zealand by overlooking the enormous breast screening backlog that is preventing 50,000 women from getting their mammograms.
As to Pharmac, she said:
“We’re also deeply disappointed the Government hasn’t listened to our calls, and those of many others, to double Pharmac’s budget. Right now, there are 14 unfunded life-saving breast cancer drugs that are widely available in other countries and this Budget won’t help the women in NZ who desperately need them.”
Core Crown expenses in education have been lifted from $18.3 billion in 2021/22 to $18.6 billion in 2022/23.
But the Tertiary Education Union and the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations said they were disappointed the tertiary education sector had largely been ignored.
National Secretary Sandra Grey says on an individual level, there has been some relief from the current economic downturn, but 2022/23 total appropriations for tertiary education have gone down.
“The effect of this is no money for training counsellors, Information Technology specialists, farmers, forestry workers, or te reo Māori speakers among other areas needed to deliver a wellbeing Budget.”.
“In addition, there is nothing to encourage our Māori members in this Budget. How is this going to increase Māori engagement in the tertiary sector?”
Tertiary staff wellbeing was being harmed by continued underfunding. This meant a reduction in the quality of education and the support that can be given to learners.
Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association says the Budget “has continued to condemn our national student body to poverty and debt by maintaining the status quo”.
Extending half-price public transport for two months past June fails to address the systematic underlying issues that have caused the current cost of living crisis, the association says.
Making public transport “free” is the only solution to end the “transport poverty” experienced by students and lower-income earners.
So come on taxpayers – cough up a bit more, eh?
The $350 payment for those earning less than $70,000 will provide a short benefit to students the association says, but it is unclear if it excludes those who are receiving student allowance. Clarity is sought on that point.
And the association says tangible improvements to Studylink support are necessary to counter the cost of living crisis.
“We implore the Government to put students closer to the forefront of their thinking when considering budget and policy in the future.”
The Coordinator for Auckland Action Against Poverty, Brooke Stanley Pao, welcomed the pass-on of child support payments to parents, which have currently been withheld, but said those payments still won’t address the shortfall of the cost of living in this country.
Increasing non recoverable dental support from $300 to $1000 doesn’t include hygiene and check-ups and with no increase to benefits it won’t address structural issues of what keeps people away from visiting the dentist, Pao said
“Not having enough money for food choices will still see people requiring emergency dental care.”
“If income is one of the key determinants of health, and there aren’t any investments in increasing benefits to liveable levels, to providing Universal Services like free dental and public transport, no state intervention to provide free food for people, then can we really call it a health and well-being budget?”
Free Fares NZ said Budget 2022 was heralded as the “Climate and Wellbeing Budget”, but it needed to include free public transport for tertiary students, under 25s, community service card holders, and Total Mobility card holders and their support people.
This had not happened and the bold steps needed to support low-income and disadvantaged communities transition into a climate friendly future ad not been taken.
With the cost of living climbing rapidly,
“… we need targeted free fares now more than ever. This budget has failed to encourage and enable mode-shift away from private vehicle use for low-income communities by not making public transport free for the communities who rely on it the most, but are least likely to be able to afford it.”
Civil Contractors New Zealand, the national association for civil contractors, welcomed the $230 million investment in trades training programmes, increased funding for rail and rural broadband infrastructure, and support for Construction Sector Accord Transformation Plan initiatives included in Budget 2022.
But Chief Executive Alan Pollard said
“… it doesn’t go far enough. As a country we are missing a trick when it comes to dealing with other key infrastructure issues.”
He expressed concern that the modest Budget 2022 allocation for infrastructure could delay action on many of the report’s recommendations – and many critical infrastructure projects – until 2023 or beyond.
The Greater Wellington and Horizons regional councils said the Budget’s failure to contribute funding for a fleet of hybrid electric trains in the lower North Island has surprised and disappointed them.
The trains, which are battery powered on non-electric track, were proposed by the councils in a business case paid for by Waka Kotahi.
Greater Wellington chair Daran Ponter and Horizons chair Rachel Keedwell said the government’s decision was, “Like the lights being turned off”.
But the flow of taxes into the government’s coffers has not been turned off.
Wish lists are great – but Finance Minister Grant Robertson can never please everybody.