Grant Robertson explains how his ‘wellbeing’ budget will work

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson was interviewed on Q+A  last night on how ‘wellbeing’ will be woven into next year’s budget.

Wellbing in the budget  is described as ‘a new way of delivering public policy and measuring economic success, and now in a world first GDP won’t be the only indicator of our prosperity. Happiness indicators like mental health and poverty will be given weight”.

Is this a new approach? Or is it the ‘social investment’ ambitions of Bill English renamed and repackaged? Possibly a bit of both.

Beehive: Wellbeing of New Zealanders at the heart of Budget priorities

The five Priorities for Budget 2019 are:

  • Creating opportunities for productive businesses, regions, iwi and others to transition to a sustainable and low-emissions economy
  • Supporting a thriving nation in the digital age through innovation, social and economic opportunities
  • Lifting Māori and Pacific incomes, skills and opportunities
  • Reducing child poverty and improving child wellbeing, including addressing family violence
  • Supporting mental wellbeing for all New Zealanders, with a special focus on under 24-year-olds.

“These priorities are focussed on the outcomes that will make real improvements to New Zealanders’ wellbeing,” Grant Robertson said.

“All Ministers and agencies will be collectively responsible for delivering on the priorities. For the first time, they are being tasked with developing their own Budget bids through the lens of the priorities. They are being asked to work together, across portfolios, on initiatives that will deliver the outcomes identified by the priorities.

“New Zealanders will see a difference with next year’s Budget. It will show how we are building an economy that is more productive, more sustainable and more inclusive,” Grant Robertson said.

“Strong economic fundamentals and sustainable economic growth remain integral to New Zealand’s success but they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. We are widening our Budget focus to look at the wellbeing of our people, the health of our environment and the strength of our communities,” Grant Robertson said.

Q+A:

Robertson:

The caveat to all of this is of course is there are a certain amount of things in a budget that you have to spend on, for example the demand driven expenditure, welfare benefits and funding for children…and that includes some really basic capital needs that we’ve got. And actually we’ve got a lot of left over legacy needs that weren’t invested in.

As any new government does. Labour have kept hammering the ‘lack of investment’ of the last National Government (who kept spending more each year).

Each minister has to put all of their bids for new spending through the lens of wellbeing. There are twelve specific areas (domains) that range all the way from the impact on health to the impact on someone’s life satisfaction…

Who does a budget consider the impact on everyone’s life satisfaction?

These budgets will be based on the evidence of what makes a difference.

Bill English said similar things.

Why is it the Government’s job to address loneliness in the community?

It is never just the Government’s job to do something like that, and I’m absolutely clear about the fact that wellbeing is not something that the Government controls, but by making it part of our purpose therefore we can contribute to supporting an individual or community or a family to reach you know a state of wellbeing that they’re happy with.

We know that if people are disconnected from their communities that can see them becoming unwell, it can see for some people it leads them into mental health issues…

Science or subjective?

There’s no doubt we are putting together here the tangible and the intangible.

What would you do to help someone who is lonely and isolated, what can a Government do to ensure that they’ve got friends?

Well it’s not about ensuring that they’ve got friends, it’s about ensuring they are connected to their communities.

I’m not sure how that will be done via a budget.

ACT Party:

Great question from : “Why is it the Govt’s job to address loneliness?” The Govt’s “wellbeing” approach is about nanny-state politicians and bureaucrats deciding what your best life is, even though every New Zealander is different.

The panel discuss the interview:

Liam Hehir:

It’s all very laudable and unobjectionable in principle.

I do take exception to the idea that it’s the first time the Government has ever been concerned with anything other than GDP, a claim he’s made on several occasions. Governments have always been concerned with the wellbeing of citizens.

I just see this as a mushy PR job.

John Tamihere:

It’s a global movement.

There’s no doubt that the narrative has changed quite dramatically under this government.

The wellbeing, collective impact it’s called, it was championed out of Stanford University 15, 16 years ago, it is running globally and been tested. New South Wales Treasury has been tasked with running a wellbeing budget next year, so there’s a global movement about this wellbeing’s narrative.

It’s a response to supply side economics as the be all and end all, and you’ve got to actually shift your public investments to where you can measure the bang for the buck on whether it’s actually working.

It sounded to me like a great new idea from Labour. Sounds quite similar to where English and National were heading, they just didn’t frame it as “collective impact”.

Jennifer Curtin:

It’s actually about investing in more than economic growth…

You need economic growth to have the money to invest – we have good economic growth at the moment, so a good time to invest.

…and using that as the sole measure of how the country is doing. So it’s about measures. It’s almost a follow on from what Bill English was doing with his social investment strategy.

It’s using the term wellbeing, picks up on what the OECD and what serious economists there are recommending.

I hope it is angled more at ‘collective impact’ than ‘impact on the collective’.

The guidance issued to Ministers and departments:  https://treasury.govt.nz/publications/budget-policy-statement/budget-policy-statement-2019