Some great news out last week – New Zealand’s unemployment rate has fallen to 4.9 per cent – that’s the lowest rate in nearly eight years. Around 35,000 more jobs have been created in the past three months and 144,000 more people are in work over the past year. That means New Zealand now has the second highest employment rate in the developed world. Average weekly wages are also up nearly 2 per cent in the past year, compared with inflation of just 0.2 per cent. Thanks to National’s responsible economic management, we have a strong, growing economy – one of the best performing in the developed world – and we’re one of the few developed countries back in budget surplus.
This was recognised last week with news New Zealand had been ranked number one in the world in a global prosperity index. This index cites our ability to turn the country’s wealth into prosperity. It ranked 149 countries across eight different categories, including economic quality and business environment. We’re also getting better results from core public services like health, education and law and order. Last week, we also released the latest update on our better public services targets. In 2012, I set out 10 challenging targets for the public service to achieve to get better results for New Zealanders from the more than $70 billion of taxpayers’ money we spend each year.
The latest update shows we’re heading in the right direction and have made significant progress on some of the really difficult issues that affect our communities and families. More children are starting their education earlier, staying longer, and achieving better results. In health, more children are being immunised, protecting them from many life-threatening illnesses, and cases of rheumatic fever are down. The number of people on benefits has also dropped more than 5 per cent since 2014. While there’s been an increase in crime since the last update, it’s still down 15 per cent since 2011. Recently I indicated we are likely to increase Police numbers in the near future to help bring this down further. These targets are all about ensuring the public service is more innovative, enterprising, driven, and focused on results. It’s another example of this Government’s willingness to try new things. The targets also fit well with our investment approach to social services, which means we’re willing to invest a bit more upfront to improve people’s lives and to get better results. Overall, I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made in these 10 target areas. It shows we are making a difference to the lives of New Zealanders and we will continue to focus on doing just that.