Health the big Budget winner
Cheaper doctor visits and a huge boost for hospitals form the centrepiece of Labour’s first Budget in almost a decade.
From December 1, about 600,000 Kiwis will have cheaper access to doctors, with those who hold a Community Services card receiving up to $30 off GP visits.
The Coalition Government is extending free doctor visits to under-14-year-olds – currently they’re free for children aged up to 13.
The total spend on health is $3.2 billion in operational funding and $850 million in capital spend over the next four years.
This will provide district health boards with an extra $2.2b over four years to relieve increasing cost pressures which have put 19 of the 20 DHBs in deficit.
The Budget also allocates $750m of new capital to tackle some of the most urgent building problems facing hospitals.
The nurses in schools programme is being extended to decile 4 secondary schools to reach an extra 24,000 students.
The school system hasn’t received the cash injection some might have hoped for. There is $394m to fund new schools and about 200 additional classrooms to cater for population growth and further capital investment for the Christchurch Schools Rebuild programme.
The Coalition Government has allocated a 1.6 per cent increase to schools’ operational funding – up on the 1.3 per cent in last year’s Budget and the freeze on operational funding in 2016.
However, early childhood education is the focus in this Budget, with $590m for new operating funding over the next four years.
That will come into force on January 1 next year.
Both teacher unions, NZEI and PPTA, have expressed disappointment at what has been allocated for schools.
PPTA president Jack Boyle described it as a ‘‘missed opportunity’’ and said that while it was ‘‘great the Government is planning for future roll growth’’
teachers were hoping for ‘‘more action’’ around declining numbers of teacher graduates, and teacher attrition.
Overall, the Budget has provided a surplus of $3.1b for this year, with an expected rise to $3.7b by next year.
Housing has been given new investment of $234m, to increase social housing by 6400 homes over the next four years.
That exceeds the Government’s earlier commitment to build at least 1000 state houses each year, and increases it to 1600 a year but 400 less than the Housing Minister had hoped for.
The Salvation Army said the coalition government had tackled some aspects of poverty and poor housing but it wasn’t the ‘‘transformational change hoped for’’.
Investment in the police is not quite as it had been sold, with 880 officers of the 1800 promised by the Government funded by last year’s Budget under the previous Government. Budget 2018 enables the recruitment of an extra 920 officers and 240 support staff.
Treasury is forecasting economic growth of about 3 per cent per annum on average over the next four years.
Wages are forecast to rise by an average 3.1 per cent over the same period and unemployment is expected to fall to 4.1 per cent in late 2019.
Other notable spends are $1.1b for foreign affairs – announced by Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters last week. An additional component of that funding is $100m for the America’s Cup to support Emirates Team NZ.
Research and development will get a $1b boost over four years, giving businesses spending more than $100,000 a year on R&D 12.5 cents back for every dollar.