By Maisie Marston
Maximising gross domestic product (GDP) has long been the measure of success and a key aspiration of governments; meaning economic policy has focused solely on the output or production of a state. Sitting at 51st place on the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) 2018 list, New Zealand is a country which is far from the top of the GDP rankings. Despite this, climbing the table is no longer the focus of the country’s policy agenda. After the introduction of a new historic ‘well-being’ budget, the government instead will seek to look beyond GDP growth and opt to tackle welfare issues including mental health.
Meticulously put together using a series of ‘indicators’, the budget will focus on a number of new aims; reducing child poverty, tackling family violence, supporting indigenous peoples, moving towards a low-carbon-emission economy, thriving in the digital age and treating mental health issues. Overall, the biggest new spend included in the budget will allocate around NZ$1.9bn (£980m) to treat anxiety and depressive disorders. This money will enable the government to establish a universal frontline mental health service which is predicted to help 325,000 people with mild to moderate cases by 2023-24. As New Zealand’s youth suicide rates are among the highest in the world, the new commitments to tackling mental health illness could have a large impact on Kiwi society.
In a recent interview, finance minister Grant Robertson said; “there’s absolutely no doubt that mental health is critical to our wellbeing, it’s been severely underinvested in New Zealand for a long time”. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has also commented on the new commitment, describing the issue as “deeply personal”, saying her government had “laid the foundation for not just one well-being budget, but a different approach for government decision-making altogether”.
However, the new approach has not been well received by everybody. The proposal has attracted criticism over its effectiveness. Simon Bridges, leader of the opposition National Party, has claimed that; “This is not a wellbeing budget. Most New Zealanders will be left asking themselves what’s in it for them”. It also raises the question of whether downplaying GDP and economic growth will set the country back financially. After UN reports have suggested that economic growth is a determinant of well-being, this could also mean the budget will have the reverse of Arden’s desired effect.