Budget 2018: Behind the headlines

It’s not the politicians who will lead the change — it’s us.

Last week the government released their budget for 2018.

Budgets are important because they show us what our elected leaders are choosing to fund, and what they’re not.

It signals direction and priorities.

We’ve been reading the analyses and we now know there are areas of strong alignment with the priorities of our growing ActionStation community.

There’s more money to build state houses and insulate homes, an increase in spending for hospitals and cheaper GP visits for people who earn the least, along with the biggest increase in the Department of Conservation’s funding in over a decade.

But there is also room for improvement.

Last year we worked together to create our community’s vision for the future of New Zealand — Te Ira Tāngata: People’s Agenda for Aotearoa. Using that as the basis, here are the good, the mixed and the not-so-good parts of Budget 2018:

  • Overall health funding increased massively to lower the price for visiting a doctor for people on low incomes, and free visits for people under 14;
  • Extra funding for enforcing water quality standards;
  • A new $100m fund to develop clean, climate friendly, technologies;
  • Biggest boost to DoC’s budget in over a decade — $181m more to help protect Papatūānuku over the next four years;
  • Money was put towards new hospitals — rather than a new mega-prison;
  • People granted refuge to get more support with improvements to the resettlement centre.
  • More state homes were promised but fewer than what the Housing Minister knows we need
  • Dedicated funding for free counselling for 18–24yr olds. But the $100m that was promised for mental health announced in last years’ budget appears to have been moved into other areas of the health budget;
  • More funding for insulating owner-occupied homes, but people living in rentals miss out.
  • A promise to boost funding for RNZ and NZ On Air by $38m was broken with only $15m allocated;
  • No dedicated funding to increase the wages of our underpaid nurses, teachers, and midwives;
  • People who have the least largely miss out on this Budget. There was no increase in benefit levels despite the price of food and rent increasing and punitive sanctions still exist.

This Budget is — without a doubt — a step away from tax cuts for the rich and subsidies for industrial farming practices that harm our rivers. Yet the overarching theme was one of patching up the past, not transforming the future.

Since coming into power, the Labour-led government has talked about the decade long underinvestment in infrastructure like schools and hospitals, along with the teachers, nurses, and midwives who work in them. The housing crisis continues to grow, with the waiting list for a state house at record high levels.

This Budget starts to address some of these pressing issues. But it doesn’t go very far. The Government has chosen not to spend $3billion more that it could have on lifting more families out of poverty or insulating more homes for people who rent.

We think we know why.

Prior to Jacinda Ardern taking over Labour’s leadership, the current coalition government’s chances of getting into power in 2017 were slim to none. They managed to win with an aspirational message, but when it came to actually transforming our economy and tackling extreme wealth (one of the leading causes of poverty), they backed down and set up the Tax Working Group instead of increasing taxes.

The National Party knows there is a public perception that Labour are not good economic managers. We saw this when they tried to push a (fake) story about an $11bn hole.

Labour and the Greens also know this perception exists and that’s why they self-imposed the ‘Budget Responsibility Rules’ (BRR).

A decision many have said was arbitrary and unneeded. The BRR have created a straitjacket for how much the government can spend on lifting people out of homelessness, fixing Auckland’s transport or creating a welfare system based on aroha and manaakitanga.

We think the government wants to be bolder than they are. But they’re worried about losing votes.

It’s possible they are waiting for the Tax Working Group’s recommendations in September before making bolder moves to reduce entrenched inequality.

There are also big pay negotiations for our teachers and nurses who have been undervalued and underpaid for decades, which may be why they’re holding $3.8billion in reserves.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that politicians are not going to fix the massive economic imbalance in our country without voter support.

So we must pave the way.

Over the next 12 months, what our community does together will be crucial for ensuring Budget 2019 is bolder, more imaginative and more transformational.

10 percent of people in this country currently hoard more wealth than everyone else put together.

If we’re serious about solving poverty, ending homelessness and healing our rivers, we need bigger solutions than Budget 2018 offered up.

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We work together to create a society where people and planet are more important than profit and Te Tiriti o Waitangi is honoured.

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