Budget Solves Housing Crisis
On first reading the 2016 Budget did not appear to have a substantial focus on housing, but closer analysis of the spending priorities reveals the Government's strategy.
Housing has created a huge ideological problem for National. The party does not support a large state housing sector and is not prepared to take on the responsibility of increasing the supply of social and emergency housing.
I can imagine the consternation and frustration within National's cabinet in dealing with the growing evidence of a housing shortage and surveys and polls showing increasing numbers of voters expressing dissatisfaction at the Government's performance in this area. I believe that Judith (Crusher) Collins may have come up with a solution. As the restored Minister of Corrections she has been determined to put public concerns regarding conflicts of interest and her close relationship with Cameron Slater behind her as she grows her power base again.
Ministers must compete against each other for a share of the budget to finance their portfolios and the $355 million increase for prisons is a huge win for Collins when one compares that to the $258 million being provided for social housing. 4,585 individuals and families are on Housing NZ's priority waiting lists and yet the money set aside to address the demand will only build a paltry 750 houses in Auckland.
Collins is clearly building a corrections empire and although her earlier attempt at privatising prisons was a failure she is keen to grow the status of the portfolio. It costs around $100,000 a year to keep someone in prison and while this may seem a lot of money it is probably much cheaper than providing social housing and all the wrap around services needed to support struggling families and individuals. The demands on mental health services are also increasing and the police have become the first line responders for those suffering from mental health episodes and police cells and prisons are already being used to house those with mental health disabilities.
By expanding the numbers that corrections manage it will take the pressure of housing and social services. The wonderful thing about prisoners is that many voters support the idea of punishment so that there is no expectation of quality care. Already double bunking cells are being considered and there is potential to add 5,000+ plus prisoners to the current 10,000 with little extra spending.
All the Government needs to do is remove all the homeless from the streets and put them in prison and a cost effective solution is found that doesn't challenge National's principles and can pave the way to future tax cuts. Of course the police will be much busier arresting more people and managing the increased paper work so that perhaps almost $300 million will go some way to supporting that.
Then there is the issue of those who may criticise the Government's unethical plans and the likes of Nicky Hager using his investigative skills to expose them. A beefed up GCSB would be needed to keep tabs on unwanted attention and $178.7 million would go a long way to achieving that.
Of course all this is purely speculation and intended as satire...