The wellbeing budget that sank

Tess McClure writes in The Guardian:

Next month will mark two years since Arden’s Labour government introduced its first “wellbeing budget”, which, rather than bowing to economic metrics such as GDP, used a much broader range of outcomes, including human health, safety and flourishing, to assess the success of policies. The move was greeted with international fanfare, and in the UK, Labour’s leadership has said it is examining similar plans.

But has the approach worked? By many measures, New Zealanders’ wellbeing is still faltering. Suicide rates have barely flickered, housing is increasingly unaffordable, progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is slow, and data released in recent weeks shows wait times for young people trying to access mental health care have increased since Labour’s election.

Child poverty rates also barely moved.

“It was marketing as opposed to substance,” says Arthur Grimes, former chief economist at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, and now a professor of wellbeing and public policy at Victoria University School of Government. “But it came at a time when a number of other governments were so clearly not prioritising people’s wellbeing – stood in such sharp contrast to Britain and the US in particular – that it sort of looked like something novel and new and grand.”

Contrary to popular reporting, Grimes says New Zealand’s wellbeing budget was by no means the first in the world. He points to frameworks such as Bhutan’s Happiness Index, or the Welsh Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. More broadly, he says the words wellbeing and welfare are in essence identical in meaning – and while “wellbeing” might be a fresher arrival on the scene, welfare has long been core to the way many governments choose priorities and form legislation.

Every Budget is about wellbeing. The media fell for a slogan. And the so called living standards framework was started in 2011 by Treasury under Bill English.

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