Report finds disabled people among those who experience persistent disadvantage

The Productivity Commission Te Kōmihana Whai Hua o Aotearoa have completed a study into economic inclusion and social mobility.

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In June 2023, they released a final report on breaking the cycle of persistent disadvantage in New Zealand called A fair chance for all external URL . As part of our work gathering better data on disability, we have taken a look at the report to see what it means for disabled people. 

The inquiry drew on Treasury’s tikanga-based wellbeing framework He Ara Waiora external URL . The results of this report are based on over 140 hui (meetings) with individuals and organisations, submissions, previous reports and data from the Commission and other government agencies, engagement with government organisations and policy workshops, and nine research reports and reviews commissioned as part of the study.

Another report will be released later in 2023 titled A quantitative analysis of disadvantage and how it persists in Aotearoa New Zealand.  This study relates to outcome two of the New Zealand Disability Strategy – Employment and economic security.

What is persistent disadvantage?

The Commission defines persistent disadvantage as ongoing disadvantage (two or more years, over someone's whole life, or across generations) experienced by people in “peak working age households” (at least one adult in the household is aged between 25 and 64 years - the “Population”) across three areas: being left out (lacking connection and belonging), doing without (lacking means to achieve aspirations), and being income-poor.

Social inclusion is defined as all New Zealanders living fulfilling lives with a strong sense of identity, the ability to contribute to their families and communities, and having what they need to realise their aspirations.

The inquiry found that 45–48 percent of working age New Zealanders experienced disadvantage in one or more areas at least once in a five year period, and this tends to be a one-off experience for 60–63 percent of them.

However, 697,000 or 18 percent of New Zealanders experience continual disadvantage across 2013 and 2018. Highest rates are found among sole parents and Pacific peoples, followed by Māori and disabled people. Five percent or 172,000 people experienced complex and multiple forms of continual disadvantage across 2013 and 2018.

How many disabled people are experiencing persistent disadvantage?

Disabled people made up four percent of the population experiencing persistent disadvantage across 2013 and 2018 in peak working age households. Of these:

  • 21 percent experienced persistent disadvantage in one domain across both years compared to 18 percent of Māori and 31 percent of Pacific people. The most at-risk group was people with no high school qualification, with 47 percent experiencing persistent disadvantage in one domain.
  • 10 percent experienced persistent disadvantage in two or more domains across both years compared to nine percent Māori and 15 percent of Pacific people. The most at-risk group was people who are public renters, with 30 percent experiencing persistent disadvantage in two or more domains.

In terms of regional variation, the highest proportion of people experiencing persistent disadvantage live in Manukau (Auckland region) and Wellington region; the South Island and Waitemata (Auckland region) had the lowest proportion.

Barriers that drive disadvantage

The Commission identifies four barriers as underlying drivers of disadvantage:

  1. Power imbalance – where policy and service responsiveness is skewed towards those with power.
  2. Discrimination and the ongoing impact of colonisation - discrimination and employment and wage inequities (pay gap for disabled vs non-disabled people was 12 percent in 2021) and cumulative discrimination faced by those at the intersection with gender and ethnicity, and the impact of colonisation.
  3. Siloed and fragmented government – disadvantage is a complex problem, but public services are focused on providing standardised services.
  4. Short-termism – system focused on immediate issues of the day.

Recommendations for the public sector

The report made 20 recommendations across three main areas of the public management system which can be summarised as:

  1. Purpose and direction – public sector commitment to a “social floor” or minimum acceptable level of quality of life, describing what social inclusion in New Zealand looks like, quantifying this and incorporating outcomes and measures into the Living Standards Framework and He Ara Waiora, and amending the Public Service Act 2020 to clarify the role of the public service in improving wellbeing.
  2. Accountability – suggestion for a Social Inclusion Act alongside the Child Poverty Reduction Act, Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and Parliamentary Commissioner for the Future to consider long-term consequences of decisions; government agencies to develop and resource Wellbeing Policy Implementation Plans; an independent review of public accountability settings, clarification of roles of local and central government; and promotion of locally-led, whānau-centred initiatives to support people’s autonomy to make changes in their lives. Enabling Good Lives was cited as one such national initiative that can contribute to meeting the needs of disabled people.
  3. Learning and voice – resource better community engagement and establish a government-wide learning policy and invest in data collection. The Independent Monitoring Mechanism (IMM) which promotes, protects and monitors the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRPD) was cited as a mechanism that enables sector feedback to Government as well as the engagement of disabled people in the design of disability policy and services in Whaikaha.

Read the full report external URL on the Productivity Commission Te Kōmihana Whai Hua o Aotearoa's website.