Budget 2019: Critics and fans among those affected

8:07 pm on 30 May 2019

There are too few mental health workers to fulfill the Budget's plan, DHBs seem left short, and beneficiary families still don't have what they need, academics, advocates and unionists say.

Stock photo.

Stock photo. Photo: 123rf.com

However, others were more receptive, with KiwiRail and the Children's Commissioner pleased at the government's spending priorities.

The coalition government's first Wellbeing Budget has delivered a major boost for mental health services, but one clinical psychologist says there will not be enough of them to do the work.

A $1.9 billion package over five years will aim to provide about 325,000 people with access to mental health and addiction services by 2023 to 2024.

Budget documents said new workforces would be built to support people - with $212m included for health workforce training and development - but no further details were given about the number of trained workers needed to support the scheme or where they would come from.

Victoria University clinical psychologist Dougal Sutherland said New Zealand would need at least double the number of the specialists to deliver improved mental health and addiction care.

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Dougal Sutherland Photo: Supplied / Victoria University

He said there were not enough clinical psychologists to do the work.

"Clinical psychologists in New Zealand see maybe around 200,000 people a year, and even if you include other mental health professionals in that such as counsellors and social workers that's also estimated to be about another 200,000 a year and we're talking about almost that number again, without any indication of how we're going to increase the workforce to do that."

Mr Sutherland said consideration must be given to moving from one-to-one to more innovative therapies.

The Council of Trade Unions is warning the Budget appears to have given district health boards about $300 million less than they need.

The Budget unveiled today provided $13.9m for the 20 DHBs.

CTU economist Bill Rosenberg said overall the health sector got close to what it needs to provide extra services but he said early analysis indicates there may be a major gap in DHB funding. He said a shortage of that amount would be serious, given large deficits at some DHBs.

Other big spending announcements include a boost to expand Whānau Ora's coverage and changes to benefits which include indexing main benefits to wage increases and lifting abatement thresholds, while sanctions for failing to apply for child support are being removed.

Anti Child Poverty campaigners back this move but argue it does not go far enough.

A member of the Child Poverty Action Group - Professor Innes Asher, who was also a member of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group - said some families were already too far behind.

"That [funding]'s terrific and we're really really pleased about that, but we actually need a lift in the benefits: they're not affording basics, they're not affording bedding, washing facilities, housing, food, there's so much they're not affording."

Ms Asher said the government needed to do more to fulfil its own vision of adequate incomes for beneficiaries.

A Whānau Ora leader welcomed an $80m funding boost to the flagship Māori programme but said other agencies must also take a leaf out of their book.

Part of the money will be spent on more whānau navigators, who work with high-need families to determine their own needs and solutions.

South Island Whānau Ora commissioning agency Te Pūtahitanga's chair Helen Leahy said the increase in funding and government backing was great, but she also wanted to see other agencies, such as health and social development, adopt a whānau-centred approach.

"We need to see Minister Nanaia Mahuta really challenging her cabinet colleagues to lift their game and to take seriously that wellbeing isn't about doing to, for, and on behalf of whānau - it's actually inviting whānau to be designing their own answers, their own strategies," she said.

Ms Leahy said it would also have been good to know just how many navigators they were going to get.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Leann Watson meanwhile said although there were positives in the Budget but it overlooked a key driver of people's wellbeing, their financial situation.

"In order for the government to afford all of the things in the Budget we need to ensure that we've got a good, strong, growing economy and that is largely up to business to provide that, and we just don't feel there's enough in the Budget to enable business to do that."

Ms Watson said in the last 12 months there have been a significant number of additional costs introduced for businesses, and they would have liked to seen tax relief to address that.

She said they are happy to see the confirmed funding for the Reform of Vocational Education and investment in rail.

'Transformational change' - Children's Commissioner

The Children's Commissioner said today's Budget had been explicitly prepared with child wellbeing at the forefront.

The government has pledged to invest than $1.1 billion into Oranga Tamariki - the ministry for children. It will also fund 16 smaller community-based homes for additional youth justice placements.

Judge Andrew Becroft said if the Budget is adhered to, it could achieve transformational change for children.

"This Budget tries to address the deficits or the holes that exist and it attempts, I think, to present a coherent and joined-up approach with children's interests front and centre."

Auckland secondary principals are delighted the government will pay schools $150 per child if they do not ask families for a donation.

The scheme included in today's government Budget was an election commitment from the Labour Party and it is open to about 1700 schools in deciles one to seven.

Tom Webb from the Auckland Secondary Principals' Association said not all eligible schools will take up the scheme.

"Some schools ask for a higher donation than $150 so they may not take up that offer, but other schools wouldn't get a large proportion of families paying their donation or wouldn't be asking for as much as $150, so that would be a positive move for them."

Mr Webb said the extra funding from the government will be a big help for low-decile schools.

KiwiRail funding will go a long way - chief executive

KiwiRail plans to use the $1 billion announced in today's Budget to set itself up as a reliable, low-carbon transport and freight option.

The package includes $375m to replace ageing trains and wagons, $331m for tracks and infrastructure, and $300m from the Provincial Growth Fund for investment in regional rail.

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said while there will not be any new tracks, the funding is a first shot in the arm for a network dealing with decades of under-investment and he is confident it will go a long way.

"This is about managing the decline of the aged assets and getting us to a standard to compete and on the back of that it's phase one for a 10-year plan from the national rail strategy."

Mr Miller said the money gives KiwiRail a solid foundation from which to prepare for the future over the next two years.

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