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Social Wellbeing


What is policy issue arising?

Government data released each quarter continues to show marked socio-economic disparities presenting between Māori and other New Zealanders.

What is background context?

Government data released each quarter continues to show marked socio-economic disparities presenting between Māori and other New Zealanders. Statistics New Zealand and Ministry of Social Development datasets reconfirm proportionally lower Māori levels of workforce engagement than others, lower Māori employment levels than others, and that proportionally more Māori are in receipt of welfare. Key statistics are that:

  • circa 104,000 Māori (aged 18-64 years) and their household whānau are welfare reliant – this is about 26% of working age Māori adults; and
  • circa 9% of Māori in the labour force are unemployed, (31,600 people). By comparison the New Zealand overall unemployment rate is half this – at 4.5%.

(Figures are rounded, precise figures are provided within Pānui editions.)

During 2018 the Government announced a number of employment policy changes, including an increase to the minimum wage (directly increasing wages for circa 28,000 Māori), work on pay equity matters (wāhine Māori are one of the lowest paid groups in the workforce), changes to the 90-day employment trials, and changes to the Employment Relations Act (to improve collective bargaining).  Many of these changes have the potential to better support the 174,000 Māori in low paying occupations.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) published a number of items relating to Māori employment matters.  A new item was research on how to measure low pay – two approaches were elected, both showing the percentage of Māori on low wages is significantly higher than that of all New Zealanders.  I.e. 31% of Māori workers (83,800 tangata) earn less than the minimum wage, compared with 22% of all New Zealanders.  Another MBIE item specifically on Māori employment matters shows clear linkages between age and unemployment – for example the unemployment rate for Māori aged 15 to 24 years is a staggering 20%, but for those over 35 years it is more stable at around 7%.  (This youth unemployment rate is linked to leaving school without qualifications.)

Ngāi Tahu commissioned new research which showed the cumulative effect of the pay disparity between Māori and non-Māori.  The researchers calculated it at $2.6 billion per annum – i.e. the extra amount of wages payable if Māori were paid what non-Māori earn (on average).

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s published research shows 19% of Māori leave school with no qualifications, and 74% leave with NCEA level 2 (the minimum required for most tertiary study).  Better than in the past but having one in five Māori school leavers without qualifications is still unacceptably high.

Our Summary Policy Assessment

These statistics again highlight that education, qualifications and income are imperative for socio-economic well being; and if there is going to be positive change in Māori employment and household income levels, a prerequisite step must be an unrelenting focus on improving educational outcomes for Māori (including youth pre-workforce, and adults within the workforce). Further information and discussion is provided within the Pānui policy papers.