The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) welcomes Budget 2020’s investment in social security and wellbeing for Aotearoa New Zealand, but says that sustained investment is needed to ensure existing inequities are not exacerbated by the post-COVID-19 recession.
“We have seen this Government prioritise wellbeing, with mental health and poverty reduction as key initiatives, and Treasury’s Living Standards Framework introducing a new way of thinking around our economic wellbeing and aspirations for the future”, said Dr George Laking, an Auckland-based Medical Oncologist and the RACP’s Aotearoa New Zealand President.
“We know that addressing inequity needs long-term investment and focus. How are we going to ensure that children living through this pandemic are in warm, dry houses, are reaching their education goals, have nutritious food at home, and are living healthy lives?”
The Budget documents, which include reporting on child poverty reduction, acknowledge that an increase in poverty and material hardship is likely, given the sensitivity of these rates to economic conditions.
“There have been some encouraging movement in poverty and hardship rates recently, but many whānau are still struggling, even before the impacts of COVID-19 have taken effect”.
The RACP calls for the COVID-19 recovery to focus on addressing the social determinants of health – the ‘causes of the causes’ of poor health and wellbeing – which could have a profound impact on the lives of all New Zealanders.
“The impact of the social determinants of health on social and wellbeing outcomes in Aotearoa New Zealand cannot be overstated”, said Dr Laking. “The evidence of the extent to which housing, work, income and educational achievement has on health outcomes is overwhelming”.
“Whānau wellbeing, healthy housing, and good work continue to be top priorities for the RACP. Our #MakingItTheNorm campaign calls for these priorities – which are really the building blocks for health equity – to be central to Aotearoa New Zealand’s new normal”.
Although the shock from COVID-19 was unprecedented, and much of the next phase remains unknown, Dr Laking said the RACP advocated for the principles of healthy housing, good work and whānau wellbeing to be central to any framework or action plan developed.
“The Budget places an emphasis, naturally, on jobs and training. The RACP sees work and employment as inextricably linked to housing and whānau wellbeing. We call on the Government to prioritise sustained investment in addressing the social determinants of health”.
“Budget 2020 still only skirts the edges of long-awaited systemic change in social security. We welcome the direction of change but would support the Government going further to support whānau wellbeing”.
Dr Laking noted that there are already anecdotal reports from RACP members of delayed infant immunisations and health checks, and increased rates of strep throat, which can cause rheumatic fever.
Parental mental health, rates of addiction and family violence were also anticipated to worsen, which would affect children and young people. Economic distress in stressed households could also have a significant negative impact on education opportunities.
“The pandemic will affect tamariki health and wellbeing, both directly and indirectly, and the RACP calls for direct action or investment to protect them.”