Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-led coalition government is in the news again – for the right reasons. New Zealand’s first ‘wellbeing budget’ was delivered last week by Minister of Finance Grant Robertson.
Budget 2019 signals important reforms to policy making. Chiefly, it treats public policies as investments, a practice previously championed by Bill English, former prime minister and minister of finance, who had a distinguished career in the New Zealand National Party, which governed from 2008-2017.
Even before the budget announcement, the New York Times hailed it “the next big move by a New Zealand government seen by progressives around the world as a beacon in increasingly populist times”.
The wellbeing budget is founded on the simple premise that financial prosperity alone is not a sufficient measure of the quality of life. Finance Minister Grant Robertson noted the importance of looking beyond Gross Domestic Product as a measure of wellbeing.
“We must seek to value and to measure all that makes life worthwhile in New Zealand”.-Finance Minister Grant Robertson
The wellbeing budget was developed with reference to over 60 indicators highlighted within the New Zealand Treasury’s Living Standards Framework.
New Zealand’s 5 budget priorities
- Improving mental health;
- Reducing child poverty;
- Addressing the inequalities faced by indigenous Māori and Pacific island people;
- Thriving in a digital age; and
- Transitioning to a low-emission, sustainable economy.
With the 5 budget priorities, domain ministers had to collaborate on funding proposals with their colleagues and fit their proposals to the new criteria.
The economy will effectively take a backseat to happiness. Spending on mental health will increase by $1.9 billion NZ ($1.2 billion U.S.) over the next four years. Those funds will ensure thousands more New Zealanders will be able to access mental and addiction services for free.
The government also promised to cut the number of children living in poverty — currently estimated at 180,000 — in half over the next 10 years.
Millions more in funding will go towards housing programs for people who need a long-term home — for free with no strings attached.
In its current trajectory, New Zealand will become the first western country to direct the bulk of its budget toward mental health and poverty.