Well-being matters in New Zealand!
What if we were to place people’s well-being at the forefront of the country’s budgetary priorities, ahead of traditional economic indicators such as growth, employment or national debt reduction? That’s the stand taken by the New Zealand government for its 2019 budget. It represents a world first, and a shift in paradigm, that chooses to give pride of place to people and national solidarity.
New Zealand’s initiative is in the same vein as that of other countries which measure the national “well-being index” (one example being Bhutan, and its famous Gross National Happiness index created in 2008). But this is the first time a government has decided to use the quest for happiness as a standard for allocating public expenditure.
“Many New Zealanders don’t benefit from our thriving economy in their day-to-day lives, and our budget needs to close the widening gap between rich and poor.”
The initiative was made possible thanks to the country’s prosperous economy, which forecasts a surplus budget of 3.5 billion NZ dollars (2 billion euros) for 2018-2019, and an average economic growth of 2.7% over the next five years.
The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who heads a Labour coalition government, decided to take advantage of these excellent indicators to improve the living conditions of the country’s underprivileged citizens. “Many New Zealanders don’t benefit from our thriving economy in their day-to-day lives, and our budget needs to close the widening gap between rich and poor,” she argued in front of Parliament.
Several categories of the population in difficulty are now set to benefit from unprecedented financial aid in 2019. Over one billion dollars will be allocated to reducing child poverty. The fight against domestic and sexual violence will be boosted by a subsidy of 320 million dollars, while expenses earmarked for mental health will rise by 1.9 billion NZ dollars (1.1 billion euros), with the goal of helping 325,000 people suffering from psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression and addictions. Finally, budgetary allocations will be increased for M?oris and the indigenous people of the Pacific islands.
Society as top priority
And that’s not all! From now on, every new budget request submitted by a New Zealand minister must, in order to be granted, have an impact on one of the government’s five priorities for a better society: mental health, child poverty, inequality of indigenous people, the digital transition and the ecological transition.
Back in 2009, the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz recommended giving priority to well-being rather than growth. Ten years on, New Zealand is the first to take action.
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