Delivering Wellbeing

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
31 May, 2019

The Wellbeing Budget came in the government’s proclaimed year of delivery.

But whether this budget will deliver the wellbeing outcomes everyone has been led to expect is a bit up in the air.

While the wellbeing policy process highlighted by Minister Robertson emphasises the importance of evidence-driven policy, and of policy evaluation, Budget 2019 was far weaker on evaluation than we might have hoped.

Policy evaluation matters. Without it, it is impossible to tell whether any improvement in the areas targeted by this budget’s big spending lines are due to that spending. If mental health improves with the $1.9 billion committed to the area, is it because of the efforts of some community service providers rather than others? Which kinds of interventions have worked, and which have not? And how should Budget 2020 reflect what we might learn this year?

That is even more important when, despite discussion of an evidence-base for spending prioritisation in this year’s budget, there was little evidence of anything approaching cost-benefit assessment on substantial spending items.

Unfortunately, the budget not only provided scant detail on programme evaluation, it also hit the core infrastructure necessary for it. Statistics New Zealand sees a budget freeze despite an expectation of a substantial increase in users of its microdata.

And while Treasury sees a $5 million annual increase to “deliver core functions and the wellbeing approach”, repairing the damage to core Treasury competence wrought under Secretary Makhlouf’s tenure – and regularly documented in this newsletter – seems a rather more substantial task.

Without proper evaluation of the outcomes of this Budget’s spending, is it really the transformational initiative Labour promised?

Every government canvasses priorities when establishing its budget framework and each one will couch those priorities within its own rhetorical flourishes. National combined its rhetoric and evaluation within the mantle of the Investment Approach. The Wellbeing Approach still needs a stronger policy evaluation framework attached to its own substantial initiatives and sufficient funding for the Integrated Data Infrastructure to enable the necessary work.

Bringing the wellbeing framework up to its promise requires rebuilding a Treasury capable of delivering the required policy evaluation. That task can only begin on the appointment of a Secretary of the Treasury up to the substantial task ahead.

Then delivery can begin.

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