New Zealand’s first ‘well-being budget’ targets mental health

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand’s government announced on Thursday it will spend billions of dollars more on mental health services and combating child poverty as part of a new approach to its finances.

The liberal-led government unveiled the country’s first so-called well-being budget. It aims to measure social outcomes like health and the environment alongside traditional metrics such as economic growth.

"We said that we would be a government that did things differently, and for this budget we have done just that," New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

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"Today we have laid the foundation for not just one well-being budget, but a different approach for government decision-making altogether."

The budget was the first since a gunman killed 51 people at two Christchurch mosques in March, and it included money for a gun buyback scheme after the government introduced new laws banning the types of semi-automatic weapons often used in mass shootings.

While dismissed by critics as marketing spin, Ardern views the budget as a way to deliver the reformist agenda she campaigned on in the 2017 election.

The New Zealand leader said the budget put people before economic indicators.

The budget also increased funding for the nation’s intelligence agencies, which didn’t identify the man accused of the slaughter as a potential threat.

Under the budget, spending on mental health will increase by NZ$1.9 billion ($1.2 billion) over the next four years. Part of that will include extra money for suicide prevention services as the country tries to tackle its high suicide rate.

Budget documents indicate an extra 81,000 people will be able to access free mental health and addiction services.

The budget also included NZ$1 billion over four years to rebuild the country’s aging rail network and NZ$300 million over that time to help startup companies grow larger. It also included extra money to help clean waterways and improve forestry.

The new approach has been lauded by some internationally but also criticized by the conservative opposition as meaningless window-dressing.

Opposition Leader Simon Bridges said the budget had been "botched". He said families wanted more money for food, gas and rent, but instead taxes were being spent on rail, defense and trees.

"The economy is sharply declining and the government is doing nothing to encourage growth," Bridges said.

He said the budget included extra money for classrooms but not for teachers, who have been striking for better pay and conditions.

"It might have a glossy cover with nice pictures, but it’s hollow inside."

AP – AFP

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