Prue Hyman’s Column

Prue Hyman

Prue Hyman looks at Treasury’s revisit to the Living Standards Framework — 

Last weekend I was at a Women’s Studies conference. It’s very good that the Association still exists when so many feminist groups have disappeared. And the older women there like myself were well balanced by some much younger women with fire in their bellies, which was great to see.

There were a bigger range of ethnicities represented too than in the beginnings of WSA, forty years ago (yes, I gave a paper at that first conference in 1978!).

One of the best sessions I went to was on Asian Women as Citizens and Denizens: From Suffrage Then to Belonging Now. It discussed the implications for Asian, ethnic minority and migrant women in New Zealand of their exclusion from suffrage and feminist debates, both historically and in contemporary society.

There is an increasing feminisation of migration in the skilled/unskilled and temporary labour categories. For many such migrants, their legal status denies them permanent residence or citizenship regardless of the length of time spent here.

My own paper was on the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework (LSF) which I wrote about here in April.

The LSF focuses on measurement of people’s wellbeing  and is intended to improve the quality of policy advice and government services.

“Good public policy enhances the capacity of natural, social, human and financial and physical capital to improve wellbeing  – in good policy, the capital stocks: are sustained or enhanced, not eroded by current generations at the expense of future generations (sustainability), are shared equitably in a way that sustains or enhances the capitals (equity), allow for a cohesive society, where people and groups respect others’ rights to live the kinds of lives they value (social cohesion), are resilient to major systemic risks (risk management), and generate material wellbeing (economic growth).”

WOW!  If only this was made to work to improve the wellbeing of the most disadvantaged groups in New Zealand.

Treasury says it is developing a dashboard of indicators to understand intergenerational wellbeing They have also published interesting discussion papers on cultural capital, Pacific and Asian perspectives on LSF.

And Statistics New Zealand has joined the party. They are currently consulting on what are the most important 5 aspects of wellbeing for you from a range of 17. I found it too hard and wanted them all!

An amazing 110 indicators will be developed with a core of 20–25 and 80–90 providing more detailed information. They will be available early next year in time to help with the next government Budget.

But I still have no idea how this will impact on policy or how much disaggregation there will be by gender, ethnicity, age, and other aspects relevant to people’s wellbeing. At least buried deep is the question: “Do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where you live?” How the fact that many women do not feel safe, with good reason, will impact on policy is beyond me at this point.

“By placing indicators like GDP alongside environmental and social indicators, like the depletion of ecological resources, measurements of poverty, and health, the Government hopes to develop a deeper and more meaningful picture of New Zealand’s economy and society.

The flow-on effects will be enormous. The indicators will be used to make choices about how the Government allocates bids for its $80 billion budgets. Budget 2019 will be the first ‘wellbeing budget’.” It all sound great in theory.

But I worry that the real limitations of using income as a proxy for wellbeing can be used as an excuse for other indicators suggesting that wellbeing is not that bad for low income groups.

Meantime Treasury continues as usual to advise cuts or no increases in areas like support for less advantaged children in schools and for midwives – so I am not holding my breath about them having changed their spots.

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