This week was the Budget. Did it rock your world, and change your life? Or does life just go on as usual?
I know it’s terribly cynical of me, but after a year of unprecedented spending to outrun the effects of a pandemic, and only one year into this government’s term, Budget 2021 was never going to be a lolly scramble. If you’re inclined to ask ‘what’s in it for me?’, most of us will need to wait until the election year Budget in 2023 to get an answer.
We knew this was going to be a long overdue budget to help those struggling below the poverty line, and an opportunity for the government to answer the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s report.
Deep down I don’t think many of us have an issue with the government trying to raise children out of poverty– and if a benefit increase, warmer houses and more childcare options helps, then I’m all in.
Reducing child poverty is one of the government’s main objectives, and by tackling it now, they have a couple of years to move the dial before voters decide whether they have done a good enough job. But if the government really believes an increase in benefits is what it’s going to take, they shouldn’t be staggering the increase – they should have got on with it and offered the full increase from July 1st.
This was their one chance to substantially change the welfare system. Next year they won’t get away with a lack of detail around how they will fix issues such as productivity, increasing jobs, housing and infrastructure.
Those in opposition have asked the usual provocative question – what’s in it for the average Kiwi? While this wasn’t a budget that had many of us calculating whether we’d have extra money in our pockets on pay day there is still plenty in here that affects all of us in a subtler way.
Whether it be $100m for air and road ambulance services, $200 million for Pharmac to purchase more medicines, treatment and devices, $1.4b over four years for operational funding for schools and early learning, and a social unemployment insurance scheme - we all benefit.
That said, considering $4.7 billion has been allocated to health, it’s disappointing to see drug buying agency Pharmac only get an extra $200 million. There will never be enough money for health, and until governments unite globally to battle the price of medicines we won’t come close to funding what is needed. But spread over four years, and with an obligation to spend part of this money on devices, Pharmac sees their year budget increase by only $40 million for next year.
The Government claim it had increased Pharmac’s budget by almost 25 per cent since it came into power in 2017 is admirable, and yet clinicians, patient advocates, and patients claim it’s not nearly enough.
A 2019 study found New Zealanders had the worst access to funded modern medicines in OECD nations. According to Patient Voice Aotearoa chair Malcolm Mulholland, it would cost Pharmac $400m a year to fund the 72 medicines on its options for investment list.
Clearly we have a long way to go.
Pharmac have to make tough decisions and they don’t always get it right, but next time there’s a public debate about funding a drug to save a life - and there will be one just around the corner – let’s remember they’re working within a budget.
A budget put in place by a government that put saving lives above anything else when it came to dealing with a global pandemic. Go figure.