14 Dec 2018

Grant Robertson: Child poverty a top priority

11:13 am on 14 December 2018

The government is making the problem of child poverty one of its top priorities at the same time as it expects to bank a large surplus, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

The Half Yearly Economic and Fiscal Update (HYEFU) shows a forecast [https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/378183/solid-growth-underpins-govt-spending-plans

surplus] for the year ended next June of $1.7b, rising to $7.6b in 2022.

The economy is expected to grow at close to 3 percent over the next two years, supported by low interest rates, increased government spending and a stronger global economy.

Mr Roberston said the $7.6b was a projected surplus, not money in the bank, and there were many calls on that money. Debt levels had to stay under control because New Zealand was a small country susceptible to whatever might happen in the world.

But the government would continue to prioritise reducing the number of children in poverty, which Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft estimated at 100,000, or "two Eden Parks full" who were doing it really tough.

"We've got a bill going through parliament that will oblige me, the minister of finance, to stand up at every budget and say what I've done to reduce the number of children in poverty and report on where those numbers are at.

"We're not going to measure our success any more just on GDP growth."

Mr Robertson said New Zealand was a relatively well-off country but far too many people have been missing out on the benefit of that.

He has outlined the top five priorities for next year's "Wellbeing Budget"; mental health, child poverty, lifting Māori and Pacific opportunities, and a focus on the digital age and a low-emissions economy.

National Party leader Simon Bridges said he didn't see how a "bunch of a hundred fluffy wellbeing indicators" would improve New Zealanders' lives.

"I'm personally cynical. We've got a government at the moment that's taxing a whole heap more - about $17 billion more over the next four years - they're wasting money all over the place."

Council of Trade Unions (CTU) economist Bill Rosenberg applauded the new approach for taking into account the "wellbeing of working people and their families".

"It is time to devote the growing surplus to the increasingly urgent needs [the government] has prioritised, and the many more that need attention such as restoring public services from areas as diverse as vehicle safety inspections to immigration and labour inspectors."

Business New Zealand chief executive Kirk Hope said the finance minister should be applauded for his commitment to his fiscal rules so far and the government should make sure to maintain reserves in case the global economy turned bad.

"What the HYEFU tells us is that New Zealand is well positioned so long as we maintain those budget responsibility rules ... that we don't overspend, because we will need it."