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Budget 2019: Key investment in mental health, education, beneficiaries

Author
NZ Herald,
Section
Politics,
Publish Date
Thursday, 30 May 2019, 2:01PM

The Government has unveiled its first-ever Wellbeing Budget, committing almost $2 billion dollars towards mental health funding and another billion on child wellbeing, including moves to increase benefits.

As part of the Budget, for the first time, the Government has produced a child poverty report.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson called today's Budget a "significant departure from the status quo".

Key initiatives announced today include increased Government spending on decile 1-7 schools so parents no longer have to pay donations.

Robertson said this amounts to a saving for parents of $150 per pupil, per year across 1700 schools - benefiting half a million school kids.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson leading his six ministers as he leaves after his Wellbeing Budget 2019 presentation in the lock-up. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Finance Minister Grant Robertson leading his six ministers as he leaves after his Wellbeing Budget 2019 presentation in the lock-up. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Government has also announced it will be indexing benefits to increases in the average wage and will be removing punitive sanctions – this is estimated to lift the income of almost 340,000 people.

KEY POINTS:
• Total new spending of $25.6b over four years

  • Mental health:$1.9 billion over five years, including $455m for new services of mental health workers at places such as health and doctors clinics to service those with low to mid mental health problems
  • School donations:From 2020, decile 1-7 schools will get a $150 per student payment from the Government if they get rid of so-called 'voluntary' donations. Cost: $265.6m over four years. NCEA fees scrapped.
  • Benefits:To be indexed to the average wage instead of inflation. Expected to put about $47 more a week into beneficiaries' pockets by 2023 – about $10-17 more than they would get under CPI. Cost: $320.2m over four years.

Speaking to media inside the lockup today, Robertson said the Government was no longer basing its success on a "narrow set of economic indicators".

"The old way of doing things have left too many people behind."

Today's Budget is a collaborative effort between all ministers and all Budget bids had to prove they would contribute to wellbeing over a multi-year period.

"We have embedded wellbeing at every stage of this Budget," he told media.

As telegraphed by the Government's Budget priorities, the major new investments in today's Budget are around mental health, reducing child poverty and supporting productive business.

"We have so often heard New Zealanders calling for early intervention and investment in challenging issues to save both money and lives in the long run," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

"That is exactly what this Budget delivers."

The Government will spend $1.9 billion over five years on a wide-ranging mental health package.

The funding announcement comes a day after the Government revealed it would be adopting 38 of the 40 recommendations in the He Ara Oranga report on mental health.

Ardern said the Government's spending would "significantly" increase access to publicly funded mental health and addiction services.

The new funding, announced today, includes an extra $200 million for new and existing mental health and addiction facilities, and $128.3 million for Corrections to spend on improving prisoner mental health.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson presents his Wellbeing Budget to Parliament, wearing a tie given to him today by Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Finance Minister Grant Robertson presents his Wellbeing Budget to Parliament, wearing a tie given to him today by Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Another major focus was improving child wellbeing.

Ardern, who the Minister for reducing child poverty, said the Budget would continue New Zealand's drive to be "the best country in the world to be a child".

Just over $1 billion over five years has been provided to improve the wellbeing of Kiwi kids, including increasing funding to decile 1-7 schools so they don't need to ask for parental donations.

More than half of that $1 billion would be spent on the indexing of benefits over four years.

This means from April 1 next year, main benefits will be indexed to the average wage increases – Robertson expected benefits will increase by between $10-$17 a week by April, 2023.

Today's Budget is also the first to report on child poverty reduction.

Last year, the Government passed the Child Poverty Reduction Act mandating the Treasury to include the measure in the Budget.

The Government has committed to reduce material hardship – a measure of access to essential items for living – to 10.3 per cent by 2021 and to 6 per cent by 2028.

At the moment, the number of Kiwi kids that fall into the material hardship category is 13.3 per cent.

Ardern said today's Budget represents a "systematic change" to the way the Government aims to tackle child poverty for children.

The Budget would come as good news to KiwiRail too – it has been allocated $1 billion to "help unlock regional growth".

The Government has "significantly" increased its annual operating allowance for this Budget from $2.4 billion, to $3.8 billion and, from $2.4 billion to $3 billion the year after.

In total, an extra $1.7 billion has been added to the multi-year capital allowance for future Budgets.

The Government's books show that the Government will remain in surplus over the next four years, with a $6.1 billion surplus expected by 2023.

Treasury figures show economic growth would average at 2.6 per cent over five years.

"Well it's lower than in previous years, its well ahead of the forecast of other countries," Robertson said.

This morning, Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf admitted information from today's budget was obtained lawfully – he had previously said Treasury had been hacked.

Inside the lockup, Makhlouf refused to answer questions from media.

"I'm not doing any interviews – I'm not adding any more to what I have already said."

National leader Simon Bridges today revealed that National had performed a simple search on the Treasury's website to obtain the Budget information.

Robertson said he was "disappointed" in the way the information was obtained. 
Asked about this issue – Robertson would not answer questions, instead telling media he would take questions about that later.

 

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