New Zealand Government Announces Most Prescriptions Will Be Free.

The Government has made a bold move to tackle the rising living costs head-on, unveiling a scrappy, bread-and-butter Budget 2023 that aims to address the needs of young parents, public transport users, and the sick. In a significant boost for families, the Budget includes a provision for 20 hours of free childcare per week for 2-year-olds starting from March next year. This move is expected to put an extra $133.30 in the pockets of families every week. Finance Minister Grant Robertson emphasized the importance of this investment, stating, "The backdrop against which we are putting this budget together is anything but simple. Cost of living pressures are being felt across our communities." Another crucial announcement is the elimination of the $5 prescription fee at pharmacies from July. This decision will not only save approximately 3 million people money each year but will also make most prescriptions in New Zealand free. The aim is to ease the burden on the healthcare system by enabling people to access essential medications without financial barriers. The scheme is projected to cost $618.6 million over four years. The Budget also introduces permanent, free public transport for children under 13 and half-price fares for those under 25, community service cardholders, and total mobility users. These measures aim to make transportation more affordable and accessible for vulnerable groups. The Government acknowledges the cost pressures faced by households, with "cost pressures" being mentioned 52 times in the outline of new spending, double the number of mentions from last year. While the Budget brings relief to many, concerns remain for drivers as petrol subsidies are set to end by the end of June, potentially leading to higher costs at the pump. Trusts also face increased tax rates, with the Government planning to raise them from 33% to 39% starting in 2024. While it is being presented as aligning tax rates or closing loopholes, opponents may view it as a tax hike. Finance Minister Robertson had previously stated that there wouldn't be any "major" tax changes. Additionally, the Budget allocates $322 million to early childhood education providers to enhance staff pay rates and bring them closer to those of kindergarten teachers. Urban bus drivers will also see their base wages increase to $30 an hour, or $28 for regional drivers, recognizing the importance of fair wages for essential workers. In addressing the challenges faced by Kiwi households, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins expressed determination, saying, "When I became Prime Minister, I said I would focus on the bread-and-butter issues Kiwi households are facing. It's tough for families right now." The Budget reflects this commitment, prioritizing essential services and support for those who need it most.

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