The Wellbeing Budget has received a largely positive reaction from Northlanders working in health, education and social services but there are some concerns.
Yesterday the Government unveiled its Wellbeing Budget, committing almost $2 billion towards mental health funding and another billion on child wellbeing, including moves to increase benefits.
Some of the key announcements include:
• Mental health: $1.9 billion over five years, including $455m for new services of mental health workers at places such as health and doctors clinics to service those with low to mid mental health problems and $4 million over four years for Te Ara Oranga in Northland.
• School donations: From 2020, decile 1-7 schools will get a $150 per student payment from the Government if they get rid of so-called voluntary donations. Cost: $265.6m over four years. NCEA fees scrapped.
• Benefits: To be indexed to the average wage instead of inflation. Expected to put about $47 more a week into beneficiaries' pockets by 2023 – about $10 to $17 more than they would get under CPI. Cost: $320.2m over four years.
The Northern Advocate spoke to 155 Community House development co-ordinator Carol Peters, Ezekiel Raui, who designed peer support programme Tū Kotahi, and Hora Hora Primary School principal and president of the Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association Pat Newman.
Carol Peters is the community development co-ordinator at Whangārei's 155 Community House and is involved with Open Arms, a day centre for those in need.
She thought there was some good aspects to the Budget, but believed the Government could have done more.
Peters said the $1.9 billion for mental health was important, particularly the $197million over four years, announced before Budget Day, to tackle homeless with the Housing First Programme.
Peters said some of this money would be coming to Whangārei.
"If you talk about Open Arms, if you don't have mental health when you went on the street, if you're sleeping without security for a couple of months, you're actually quite fragile. Mental health and homelessness, they're co-related," she said.
Indexing benefits to increase incomes was another announcement that "jumped out" at Peters.
The Government announced that, from April next year, main benefits will be increased to match average wage rises. Currently they are indexed to the Consumers Price Index (CPI).
The change will mean incremental increases to rates each year, which could lead to a total increase of up to $46 per week by April 2023 based on current forecasts, an additional increase of $10 to $17 per week more than the CPI rate.
Peters said it was great but it would not make enough of a difference.
"It's about children and their families living a good life, being able to live satisfactorily. Ten to $17 is not going to get there. It is not yet addressing the whittling away of the money of the poorest in our society."
Ezekiel Raui, 21 from Whatuwhiwhi, is the creator of Tū Kotahi, a peer-support programme designed after comedian and mental health campaigner Mike King spoke at Taipa Area School in 2013 following a cluster of suicides in 2012.
He said he was content with the mental health announcements but was keen to see how it would be rolled out.
"I would caution people not to get too excited about numbers that we see on papers, but also be supportive of executing the plan of making it work for New Zealand," he said.
Raui said the biggest announcement for him was the establishment of a new universal mental health service which will place trained mental health workers in doctors' clinics, iwi health providers and other health services so that when people seek help it is easy to access and immediately available.
"I think that is one of the best things, from what I've had a look at so far, as for me it's the first step in changing the system. We're now as a country redefining what suicide prevention looks like," he said.
Pat Newman, Hora Hora Primary School principal and president of the Te Tai Tokerau Principals' association, has given this year's Budget a B+, compared to a C- last year, but said the Government is building on shaky foundations as education, welfare, social issues and health were dependent on teachers being there.
He said highlights of yesterday's Budget included the changes to school donations, the money going into mental health, and the $42 million which will be invested over three years to support Māori students to succeed in education.
"I'm very thankful that the Government had come through with this. After weeks of bad news it's good to get a little bit of good news," he said.
He said the change to school donations should help a lot. For example, a school of 400 students would get $60,000.
"That's the equivalent of a teacher almost, so 10 out of 10 for that."