Finance Minister Grant Robertson forecasts 'significant investment' in mental health in Budget 2019

2019-04-23 02:34:57

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has forecast a "significant investment" in mental health services in the upcoming Budget.

Cabinet signed off on the Budget last Monday, but details will be kept under lock and key until May 30 when it is presented.

Speaking to Stuff on Tuesday, Robertson said the mental health sector could look forward to a "significant investment" in the first "well-being budget".

"It's like everything in health, you aren't going to be able to solve every issue in one year, and the people in the mental health sector that I talk to to understand that, but they want to know that the Government is taking it seriously, they want to know its no longer seen as the poor relation to the core physical health aspects," Robertson said.

"I think people will be pleased with where we are heading and they will see that we are making a significant investment."

He said no Government in his "political lifetime" had taken mental health seriously.

"The issue with our mental health programme is it has to cover everything from the very mild to moderate end to the very severe end, and we have problems and issues at each stage of that system. We have to be able to address all of them."

The Government identified mental health as one of the focus areas in its Budget Policy Statement, with a particular emphasis on children and young people.

While campaigning heavily on mental health in opposition, Labour's main achievement in the area in Government has been the mental health inquiry, along with an assortment of pilots.

The inquiry recommended serious reform to the system that included huge boosts in the availability of services, which could cost a serious amount of money.

The Government was due to make a formal response to the inquiry in March, but this was delayed after the Christchurch attacks.

Robertson said Health Minister David Clark had been given special dispensation to get his budget bid in late because the inquiry report came in under two weeks before the bids were due last December.

He said the wider Budget would focus on "long-term intergenerational change".

In its first mini-budget the Government increased the amount of money going into many families' pockets week-to-week with the "Families Package" - a suite of boosts to Working for Families, the Accommodation Supplement, the new Best Start payments, and the Winter Energy Payment.

It seemed unlikely this year's Budget would have as much of a "hip pocket" focus, although Robertson did not rule them out.

"We went and we looked at the evidence around what it is that is holding back people's improved wellbeing, where the areas are that we thought we could make the biggest difference - for example issues like mental health, child wellbeing, reducing disparities for Māori and Pacifica, those are the high-level themes - inevitably some of those have hip-pocket elements to them, but also a lot of them are about system change."


Robertson told Stuff he was "disappointed" with the backdown on a capital gains tax (CGT) and still believed it was a useful tool to combat inequality.

"I'm disappointed. I'm a person that believes the capital gains tax could have made a contribution to the fairness of our tax system. And I wanted it to be able to happen," Robertson said.

"We didn't get it over the line. That's the reality of MMP politics. But it is also not the be-all and end-all of fairness. There are a lot of other ways, both through the tax system and the broader economy, that we can improve fairness and reduce inequality in New Zealand."

He promised the Labour Party would still be campaigning on some sort of tax policy at 2020 - but it would not include the CGT.

"We will be campaigning on an overall record and an overall plan. Tax is a means to an end for that."

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