A good year for policy?

Judith Davey

A new strategy for an ageing population
In the April edition of the SuperSeniors Newsletter, the Minister for Seniors, Tracey Martin, talks about the new draft strategy for an ageing population. – Better Later Life – He Oranga Kaumatua 2019 to 2034. This was released in draft in Auckland on 12 April and now consultation will begin.

I found several things interesting about this announcement. The “Positive Ageing” title of the previous strategy has been dropped. In fact “strategy” does not appear in the new title. It has a 15-year time frame. The five major themes are announced – financial security, health, housing, safety, and social connections and the way our communities are physically built so that they are accessible to all people. The emphasis on diversity and difference should be applauded. But how do we react to the phrase – “Better Later Life 2019-2034 is a new way forward and will help inform how we look after our older people for the next 15 years and beyond”? I am looking forward to studying the full text and will be encouraging submissions. These will be reviewed, and the new strategy finalised and launched later this year. Then implementation will begin, so there is plenty to do.

Well being as the focus for the 2019 Budget
On Thursday 30th May, the Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson will deliver the government’s 2019 Budget. This has been heralded as the first “Wellbeing Budget “in the world. What does it mean for New Zealand? And, especially for older New Zealanders?

The idea builds on the Living Standards Framework (LSF) designed by Treasury, developed over many years and informed by public feedback from surveys and submissions; also consultation with local and overseas experts, drawing on the work of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This framework contains a wide range of “wellbeing indicators” from rates of unemployment/employment to housing conditions and environmental quality and will track how they vary over time, between different population groups, and by regions. No single set of indicators can capture absolutely everything that matters for every person, family, whānau and community, so the “dashboard” will be regularly updated.

In December 2018, the Minister’s Budget Policy Statement was published, foreshadowing the main priorities for the 2019 Budget. He said the Government wanted to look beyond a purely economic and fiscal viewpoint and traditional economic measures – such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – to a wider set of indicators of wellbeing when deciding on the government’s investment and funding decisions. So, it will produce the baseline for strategies which look to the future, embedding wellbeing in public policy. The stated priorities are;

  • transitioning to a sustainable and low-emissions economy;
  • boosting innovation, and social and economic opportunities in a digital age;
  • lifting Māori and Pacific incomes, skills and opportunities;
  • reducing child poverty, improving child wellbeing and addressing family violence;
  • supporting mental wellbeing, with a special focus on under 24-year-olds.

Quite a few objectives bound up in those statements!

The idea is that indictors will be measured to show progress (or otherwise) towards these objectives, which are all relevant and topical issues, and hard to disagree with. But there is bound to be criticism from sections of the community whose interests appear to have been left out or who think that other issues should be given prominence – perhaps “looking after our older people” which is a priority I noted above, by another part of government.

There is agreement that the ultimate goal of public policy is to improve wellbeing for all citizens. The wellbeing approach to policy is intended to “identify the actions we believe will make the greatest contribution to improving the intergenerational wellbeing of New Zealanders”. But, as Professor Arthur Grimes said in his commentary, “the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The question will be whether it will lead to substantive change, or is it just cosmetic?”

We already know, from Statistics New Zealand’s General Social Survey (GSS), that older people score highly on this agency’s measures of wellbeing. People 65 plus have the highest scores for overall life satisfaction and feelings that life is worthwhile, according to GSS data. People 75 plus have the lowest rates for feeling lonely. We still await the 2018 GSS results, which we will have to put against the LSF findings. It is looking to be an interesting year for policy, and we need to keep our eyes and ears primed.

About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit www.ageconcern.org.nz
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