Well, I’m pleasantly surprised. For once, Paula Bennett has played it straight on the benefit numbers.
Usually, the monthly figures are an exercise in self-congratulation from our Social Development Minister with the over-inflated ego, even though the numbers have been uniformly bad since she took office. This month, the figures indicate the situation has at least stopped getting worse, and (quite rightly) Bennett hasn’t tried to shower herself in platitudes.
Bennett’s press release is titled “Benefit numbers decrease as expected“. And she’s right, the drop was bang on the norm for March.
The number on the dole fell by 4,000 to 60,211 (remember, it was 17,000 in 2008) and overall benefit numbers fell by 11,477 to 324,814. These 6.5% and 3.4% drops are in line with the average over the previous ten years.
The decrease is just the normal seasonal variation but at least things appear to have stopped getting worse. The challenge now is to get dole numbers really falling, and that will require action on jobs.
If only Bill English could have followed Bennett’s new-found modesty. Instead he is gloating over the Government’s Financial Statements released last week. These show the government spent $915 million less than expected in the 8 months to February. English claims it’s all thanks to him saying: “Government’s fiscal focus reflected in accounts“.
Not true. Treasury explains why spending was lower than expected, it’s mostly timing issues:
“Core Crown expenses were $915 million (2.2%) lower than forecast due to the timing of Treaty of Waitangi settlements being later than forecast ($337 million), and deferred funding to Transport agencies ($144 million). The remainder of the variances are individually small across a number of departments.”
Take out the delayed payments for Treaty settlements and NZTA and the difference is just $433 million – 1.1% – pocket change for the government and an entirely normal variance from forecast.
What is interesting, however, is that gross debt is way under forecast – $3.2 billion, or 2% of GDP lower than expected. And the deficit is about half the size that was predicted. Meanwhile, the Cullen Fund continues to beat expectations.
Despite the Government canceling contributions to the Fund, it is worth half a billion more than forecast.
So how about it Bill? Debt is under control and the Cullen Fund is bringing in the cash. Time to resume contributions and start investing in our country’s future?