I wrote yesterday about our heartless, penny-pinching government, which emphasises Getting To Surplus at all costs even if that means kids dying in cold state houses.
This is the true irony of National governments. Their entire platform is one of “fiscal responsibility” and “good economic management” yet time and time again they spend money the way I did when I was a teenager: false economies and short-term wish fulfilment which meant at the end of the week I was calling home collect and begging for rides which cost our household a lot more than if I’d just made sure I had enough money for the bus.
Fifteen-year-old-me was pretty stellar at externalising the losses, but I don’t think anyone, especially my parents or me, would relish the idea of her running the country.
National are, on the surface, all about cracking down on unnecessary spending and bureaucratic bloat, delivering value for money, getting proper returns on investment.
And yet, they don’t save us money.
A 2013 report of the National Health Committee on respiratory diseases puts the cost of lower respiratory tract infections like pneumonia at:
The average length of stay was about 3.5 days and the average price per hospitalised individual was $4,700.
According to the coroner’s report, Emma-Lita Bourne was admitted to hospital on 6 August and died on 8 August. Three days; and probably higher than average costs given the complications she suffered.
Making sure her family could afford to heat their home and throw some carpet on the floor wouldn’t have cost $5,000 – and could not only have saved her life in 2014 but prevented any number of future illnesses for her and her siblings.
A 2014 report from UNICEF states:
Every year, taxpayers face a bill of $6-8 billion for additional health needs, remedial education and reduced productivity that result from 260,000 children living in poverty. This cost is largely due to the fact that children most likely to be in poverty are very young, when the most important physical, mental and social development is occurring. Furthermore, a large group of children live in poverty for a long time – 7 years – and about ten per cent of Kiwi Kids live in severe poverty.
Six to eight billion. What was the estimated cost of Hone Harawira’s Feed the Kids bill again? $100 million. Estimated cost of Sue Moroney’s extension to paid parental leave? $276 million over three years. Drops in a bucket.
The Greens-initiated housing insulation policy had, as of May 2012, cost $347 million and returned estimated benefits – in reduced healthcare costs – of $1.68 billion. That’s some good fiscal management right there.
And as the fabulous Dr Liz Craig put it a couple of years ago:
… a housing warrant of fitness could improve the condition of rental properties, and although it could increase rents, at the moment all taxpayers are covering the costs of substandard housing through the health system and it’s a conversation the country needs to have.
It’s almost like the radical notion that prevention is better than cure stacks up – ethically and financially. Maybe not on a single year’s balance sheet; but when we’re talking about caring for people from cradle to grave, a single year’s balance sheet is irrelevant.
So if National were truly interested in efficiencies and return on investment – instead of just using those buzzwords to sell their latest erosion of the public service – every state house would be warm and dry. Every kid would get breakfast and lunch. Every parent could give their kids the best start in life with mum or dad at home for those crucial early months.
Sometimes people on the left object to putting things in monetary terms – when the Public Service Association put the cost of domestic violence to business in numbers ($368 million a year) there was criticism: surely we’re motivated to stop domestic violence because it’s a bad thing which should never happen to anyone!
They’re right. They’re also wrong. This is a heartless government. They don’t do things “just because” it’s the right thing to do. Their focus is always on the money: they balance the books, they do the practical stuff, not the wasteful airy-fairy lefty stuff.
So we must, and can, argue this on both fronts. Of course every Kiwi kid should get breakfast and lunch because food is a fundamental part of being healthy and happy. But it’s also not just feelgood. It saves a huge amount of money in the long run, in education, in healthcare, in law enforcement.
It doesn’t mean we accept the frame that everything is about money. We just show very clearly how doing the right thing morally also means doing the right thing financially. The National Party isn’t selling our soul to save dollars; it’s selling our soul and costing us money at the same time.
That can’t be anyone’s definition of “good government.”