The Guardian has devoted its little corner reserved for New Zealand this week to a review of the government’s ‘Wellbeing Budget’ and how it has transformed the lives of so many New Zealanders. Or not. You can read the article here, but it got me thinking. What happened to the ‘wellbeing budget’? How come we don’t hear about it any more? What effect did it have on the lives of ordinary New Zealanders?
I was sceptical about the concept of a ‘wellbeing’ budget in 2019 when it was introduced. Sure, it sounds good, but if the government manages the economy successfully, most of the ‘wellbeing’ aspects of life are automatically improved. If unemployment is low, the tax take is greater and therefore health, education and all other state-provided services are well funded. We can produce all sorts of statistics, but to me, if the government looks after the economy, everything else looks after itself. It’s really that simple.
Nothing is simple with this government, however, and the only thing they have perfected is the art of spin. It sounded good to think that the government was interested in the wellbeing of its citizens, and no doubt their intentions were good, but like everything this government touches, the rhetoric is the only thing that works. How shall we measure wellbeing today, almost two years since the concept was introduced with much fanfare by Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson? Where do we start?
First, let’s talk about mental health. The government pledged $1.9 billion to improve mental health services, yet there has been a decline in services provided, with wait times longer for young people seeking help with mental health issues than ever. Add to that the highest youth suicide rate in the world, and no indication that overall suicide rates have decreased, and clearly, this is a fail for the government. But why did it fail when such a large chunk of money was allocated… and has barely been spent?
The reason is obvious. This government put together a plan (or formed a working group at great cost to put together a plan), allocated a chunk of cash… and that’s it. The implementation side was never considered. No one in this government actually knows how to make anything happen. To improve mental health services, there needed to be a recruitment programme, both here and overseas to bring in trained personnel. New clinics would have had to be set up, or new spaces in existing facilities where these people could work. GPs would have to be involved so that they could refer patients. Schools and universities needed to make space for mental health facilities and staff. Did any of this happen? It would seem not.
Next, let’s talk about housing. I do not blame this government entirely for the housing crisis, as it is the result of decades of inaction and red tape. But I do blame them for making promises they were never going to be able to keep. Anyone who had even the slightest connection with the construction sector in 2017 knew that the sector was already at full capacity, and building an extra 10,000 houses a year was never going to happen.
I’m sure they had the noblest of intentions. Remember Phil Twyford being very specific about the number of houses this government was going to build, citing an exact number and an exact timeframe? I am sure he believed his own spin, and I’m sure a lot of people, particularly those wanting to buy their first home, believed it too. According to my calculations on Twyford’s own numbers, we should have about 26,000 government-built new houses by now. The fact that we only have 732 is a terrible indictment of a government that can do nothing other than talk the talk. In the meantime, the waiting list for public housing is at all all-time high, homelessness is at an all-time high, and because demand exceeds supply, the cost of houses has, if you will excuse the pun, gone through the roof.
In the ‘Ready to Reset’ forum that Grant Robertson took part in (for a brief time), he told Australian and New Zealand accountants that the government had ‘solved’ the homelessness problem during the initial lockdowns and that now there is no one living on the street. He managed to make this sound like some kind of resounding success. All they have done, of course, is to move truckloads of people into motels and inner-city hotels, costing the taxpayer an eye-watering $4 billion per year.
That is not the only cost though. Glib comments from the ‘minister of homelessness’, Marama Davidson, about race-baiting do nothing to alter the fact that areas where there are a large number of temporary ‘homeless’, such as Rotorua and central Wellington, are now prone to increased crime and the locals find themselves unsafe in their own neighbourhoods.
The housing crisis is leading to a crisis in law and order. We are on the brink of serious social unrest. Violent crime in central Wellington has already increased by 35% in the last 5 years, and it is not race-baiting to say so.
Every possible statistic that measures government performance has gone in the wrong direction since the Wellbeing Budget of 2019. I may not blame the government for the origins of these problems, but I do blame them for promising big, being ‘elected’ on their promises and delivering nothing.
This is what you get when your prime minister has a communications degree, has never worked outside of politics, and most of her ministers are much the same. Politics, contrary to what Jacinda seems to think, is about more than optics. This is a government that, even though it had the best of intentions, will leave the country in a much worse state than they found it.
So much for wellbeing.
Please share this article with others so they can discover The BFD