The government is proud of their surplus, which at 0.7% of GDP isn’t quite as dramatic as the 9% of GDP deficit they had in 2011.
But as soon as we have a surplus, National starts salivating over tax cuts. Not sensible things like investing in the Cullen Fund again, with NZ Super costing $12.9 billion/year and growing rapidly with our ageing population (somewhat puts $1.8 billion in the shade). But Key’s pension philosophy is all about sticking his head in the sand.
This morning though we’re waking up to doctor strikes, so in the first of a series of where any surplus money should be going I want to look at the biggest item in the budget: Health.
National’s main task in government seems to be trying to starve services in such a way that the problems are chronic rather than acute. To mix my metaphors1: they’re slowly tightening the belt, and, like the frog in the pot, we don’t notice the slowly increasing temperature. Tony Ryall in Health mastered this better than anyone, and Jonathan Coleman doesn’t seem to have quite the same knack as the problems get ever harder.
So Junior Doctors are on strike over safety issues like doing 16 hour shifts back to back, up to 12 shifts in a row; Senior Doctors are grumpy with what they’re being paid to cover; and Ambulance staff might join the doctors on strike, as they too are concerned about the effect of cuts on patient safety.
The obesity epidemic is having little progress made.
And that’s before you get to the mental health crisis. Mental Health has been managed as a ‘chronic’ problem for the government, slowly deteriorating, but eventually when things get threadbare you start having issues sprout everywhere. From Youthline being overwhelmed, to the bed closures at He Puna Waiora due to lack of staff, to just crazy waiting times of acute services, mental health is being seen ‘as bad as the 90s’. In the absence of action from the government, The People’s Mental Health Review has been set up, and is hearing lots of stories of over-worked staff unable to attend urgent cases, and unnecessary deaths. And like the 90s we are starting to have cases like Ross Bremner’s, resulting in the deaths of people unconnected from those not receiving the services they need.
This is a system in serious stress that needs serious investment.
Steven Joyce (hardly heard from since his Dildo Baggins days…), was always desperate to trot out his ‘more money spent on health than ever before’ line, but that failed to take into account inflation or our massive immigration meaning we were going backwards in real per capita terms. Immigration may be the cheap sugar rush National loves, but it does bring costs in many areas too (I’ll come to housing in another post…).
So we’re going backwards in those terms, but in addition Health inflation tends to be about double normal inflation. Mainly due to constant innovation in new (more expensive!) treatments and keeping us alive for longer, but also somewhat due to skills shortages, this is a problem that needs addressing – and not just by under-investing.
While the Government’s surplus could easily be swallowed by Health alone – and I’ve already mentioned the Cullen Fund and Andrew Little’s already mentioned Police to combat the increased burglaries etc as well – I’ll post some more in the coming days about other areas that are far more pressing than tax-cuts. This will no doubt be what the election is fought over – your back-pocket now or fixing social problems – so it’s important to cover what we’ll miss out on if National goes ahead with their tax cuts.
1. A mixed metaphor should always be derailed, no matter how it sings.