Experts worried Government falling behind on 'Wellbeing Budget' goals

Just days out from Grant Robertson's sixth budget as Finance Minister, critics say he's falling behind on the goal set by then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - to measure economic success through people's 'wellbeing'.

It's been four years since Ardern unveiled her first so-called 'Wellbeing Budget' but experts say outcomes in key indicators like child poverty and mental health haven't improved.

When Jacinda Ardern unveiled her 'Wellbeing Budget' in 2019 the world took notice.

"Lots of other countries and policymakers and activists and scholars have looked at New Zealand and said 'that's the sort of leadership we need in the 21st century'," said Wellbeing Economy Alliance co-founder Katherine Trebeck.

Now an expert in the 'wellbeing economy' - the idea that traditional measures of progress like GDP don't tell us how our country is really faring says we're going backwards.

"So it's about quality of life for people, in all its dimensions, now and into the future without busting our planet through its precious boundaries," said Trebeck.

Trebeck is concerned by current Prime Minister Chris Hipkins' recent axing of climate policies and ruling out a wealth tax.

She met with Finance Minister Grant Robertson this week ahead of his Budget to nudge him back on track.

"Keep up that good work, keep going, don't put down your tools right now, there's more to do," she said.

"We're breaking new ground, so we have to try things that other countries haven't even had a look at yet," Robertson said.

Robertson said the Government's always maintained it would take time to shift the dial on the five priority areas it set in 2019 - including reducing emissions and addressing mental health.

"But by setting them up, putting them into every Budget we then guide ourselves on getting there," he said.

National's finance spokesperson Nicola Willis said it hasn't worked.

"It's been all about rhetoric, and not about results. There's been an abysmal failure to lift wellbeing," she said.

"They haven't necessarily had the political courage to follow through on their convictions," added economics commentator Max Rashbrooke.

Because there's a big gap between what Labour might want to do to increase wellbeing and what it can sell to the public ahead of an election.

"If we got a bit more tax from people who wouldn't notice, and we used that money to say, make dental care free or affordable for millions of NZers, that'd make a huge difference to wellbeing," Rashbrooke said.

A new tax obviously isn't how she'd do it but Willis agreed economic success should be measured on more than just GDP.

"Our social investment approach is about intervening effectively in people's lives, in ways that will actually change their lives for the better," Willis said.

An economy that nurtures both people and the planet - the goal both sides of the political spectrum can agree on.

But have different approaches and the trouble is seeing results to challenges like child poverty and greenhouse gas emissions will take decades, not a three-year Budget cycle.