Women's rights in New ZealandOn September 19, 1893, New Zealand Governor Lord Glasgow signed off on a new Electoral Act, granting women the right to vote. New Zealand ushered in a new phase of the women’s suffrage movement by becoming the first self-governed nation to allow women the right to vote. Women’s rights in New Zealand have always mattered to New Zealanders, a notion that has become more apparent in recent years. Following the 2017 election, women made up 38% of parliament. Women have held positions in high-ranking offices such as prime minister, governor-general and chief justice. A brief overview of New Zealand’s history reveals that the country has progressed at an accelerated pace over the last decade and is continuing in the right direction.

3 Advancements in Women’s Rights in New Zealand

  1. Paid Leave for Miscarriages and Stillbirths. Women’s rights in New Zealand still play a central role in political affairs. In March 2021, New Zealand’s Parliament approved a bill that provides paid leave for women and their partners after miscarriage or stillbirth. A miscarriage is defined as a loss of pregnancy “earlier than 20 weeks of gestation,” whereas stillbirths can occur after such a point. The only other country to provide paid leave for women following a miscarriage is India.
  2. Women in Parliament. The rich diversity within New Zealand’s culture is displayed within its parliament. New Zealand is ranked number five in the world for its representation of women in parliament. The growing number of women in cabinet has further advanced women’s rights in New Zealand. The country also prioritizes women’s rights in legislation. It has also delivered an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially focusing on vulnerable groups such as women. New Zealand’s parliament is making great strides in supporting women.
  3. Equal Pay. New Zealand’s commitment to the advancement of women’s rights continues to serve as an example to other nations. In 2018, New Zealand’s parliament unanimously passed the Equal Pay Amendment Bill that guarantees equal pay for workers, regardless of gender. A similar bill was passed in 1972. However, the most recent bill focuses on pay equity. It guarantees that women in “historically underpaid female-dominated industries” will have the same compensation as men in “different but equal-value work.” The bill also makes it simpler for workers to lodge pay equity claims. It also establishes guidelines for pay comparisons, ensuring any possible gender pay gaps are fair and justified.

The Road Ahead

The country continues enacting policies to advance women’s rights in New Zealand. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is also offering relief to those hit hardest by COVID-19. Due to Ardern’s exceptional response to the COVID-19 crisis, she was victorious in her re-election campaign. As the country pushes ahead in hopes of eliminating COVID-19 altogether, New Zealand’s government proposed a $2.8 billion income support initiative. The initiative will serve as financial assistance to the country’s most vulnerable group: women.

As history and current policies reveal, New Zealand is making great strides in terms of women’s rights. The country’s commitment to gender equality is reflected in its legislation and its parliamentary representation.

– Jordyn Gilliard
Photo: Flickr

Renewable energy in New ZealandNew Zealand, an island country located in the South Pacific Ocean, has an economy propelled by agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and geothermal energy resources. The government sees renewable energy as the future, and in accordance, it has taken major steps to expand renewable energy in New Zealand.

5 Facts About Renewable Energy in New Zealand

  1. New Zealand has a history of being innovators in energy. The first hydroelectric power plant in the Southern Hemisphere was built in New Zealand in 1885. Since then, the country has been a leader in renewable energy and was the second country to ever use geothermal energy for hydrogen production.
  2. Roughly 84% of the electricity in New Zealand is produced from renewable sources. This large amount of renewable energy production ranks the country second in the world for energy security. Hydro, geothermal, wind and bioenergy are among the largest producers of electricity. New Zealand’s volcanic and tectonic features give the country the ability to utilize geothermal energy. For this reason, geothermal energy represents more than half of the renewable energy in New Zealand. An estimated one in five people living in New Zealand has to sacrifice powering their homes in order to pay for other essentials because of the expensive energy bill that comes from non-renewable energy sources. When the power grid in a country comes increasingly from renewable energy, those living in poverty are placed in a more favorable situation because the high cost of fossil fuels no longer burdens people.
  3. Renewable energy will play a part in the country’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan. The Labour Party-led government in New Zealand sees the pandemic as an opportunity to invest in more renewables in order to create more jobs. The Labour Party plans to develop more high-skill jobs that it believes will immediately boost the economy and also help the country prepare for the future. It is estimated that renewable energy could create almost NZ$165 trillion in global GDP gains by 2050. Such a large economic comeback would significantly benefit those living in poverty, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hurts the impoverished the most.
  4. The government is spending NZ$30 million on investigating pumped hydro storage. This investment expects to bolster New Zealand’s broader renewable energy goals as well as create thousands of skilled and semi-skilled jobs. The result of the investigation will potentially create a more affordable solution to the problem of hydropower storage during dry years when hydro lakes are low. This large investment signals the country’s dedication to renewable energy with plans to mitigate much of the risk of supply and demand.
  5. New Zealand’s goal is to have 100% renewable energy by 2030. Additionally, the country hopes to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The proponents of the plan believe this will cause a massive increase in job growth and reduce electricity bills, which will benefit New Zealanders living in poverty.

Overall, New Zealand is making significant strides in its renewable energy sector in order to address the issue of energy poverty that impacts the most vulnerable people in the country.

Stephen Illes
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty Rates in New Zealand
New Zealand is an island nation in Oceania that, according to the United Nations Happiness Index, boasts a reputation as one of the world’s happiest countries. The government currently holds especially high esteem in the international community, credited for an exceptional job in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. However, beyond these glowing numbers is an escalating crisis: child poverty. Child poverty rates in New Zealand highlight disparities that have otherwise been overlooked.

New Zealand’s Poverty Rates

New findings released by Statistics NZ and the Salvation Army’s State of Nation show gaping disparities among children facing poverty. 19% of Māori and 25.4% of Pasifika children live without all of the basic household needs, compared to the state standard rate of 11%. The issue of indigenous inequality is nothing new. Māori and Pasifika populations have faced historically disproportionate challenges that impact their quality of life.

Child poverty rates in New Zealand were identified as a policy target for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s administration back in 2018. Until the pandemic hit, the government was making progress in accomplishing the Child Poverty Reduction Act. This was a three-year plan to reduce the rate to 10%. However, the plan was disrupted once COVID-19 became a widespread issue. There is now a data gap, as the collected numbers are only updated as far as March 2020. As New Zealand has managed to control the spread of COVID-19, it is important that Arden and her administration shift its focus to supporting Māori and Pasifika populations who have fallen behind.

How to Close the Gap

Until 2018, there had been both a lack of incentive to collect demographically based data and a caliber for poverty calculation. Now, a census team conducts household economic surveys to calculate the disposable income of each home. The government must prioritize diversifying its numbers to show an accurate representation of indigenous populations. There are challenges to this — a legacy of colonialism has left indigenous communities with little trust to partake in census participation — but existing efforts to collect Māori and Pasifika data now include grassroots outreach.

There are also a variety of hardships that disproportionately impact Māori and Pasifika populations. These include imprisonment rates, houselessness and weather changes. Throughout the pandemic, many indigenous populations have signed up to receive more benefits and welfare payments. The government must continue to ensure these communities receive the support they need.

Another important step to eradicate child poverty is to improve diversity within the government. Increasing Māori and Pasifika representation at the public-sector level would give voice to the people who best understand how to tackle the child poverty crisis in New Zealand.

Many nonprofit organizations are also working to alleviate child poverty. The Child Poverty Action Group holds a series of campaigns to address different poverty-related issues and calls for action in policy advocation. It also provides a number of resources that make navigation among different available services easier. At the community level, food banks support struggling families and provide warm shelter during cold weather.

Looking Ahead

Though the government has taken some promising steps to reduce child poverty rates in New Zealand — such as its new policy requiring schools to offer free period products — its priorities must include the representation of the Māori and Pasifika in poverty statistics and initiatives. Alongside nonprofit organizations and Māori and Pasifika leaders, New Zealand has the ability to reduce child poverty.

– Danielle Han
Photo:Flickr

gender wage gap In “one of the most substantial moments for gender equality in New Zealand in decades,” the Equal Pay Amendment Bill was passed by the New Zealand parliament and took effect in November of 2020. This legislation intends to address pay equity, advance previous work toward pay equality and address the gender wage gap. Rather than just addressing gaps between men and women’s wages in the same professions, this bill targets differences between wages in female-dominated professions as compared to male-dominated ones.

How Equal Pay Addresses Poverty

Addressing gender wage gaps is key to fighting global poverty for numerous reasons. Not only do women tend to be in lower-paying occupations, but they also lack employment opportunities. Females are also tasked with two to 10 times the care work (housekeeping, childcare, etc.) than men. Research in developing countries shows that women lose out on $9 trillion annually due to economic inequality. As the number of women in paid work increased between 2000 and 2010 in Latin America, overall poverty fell by approximately 30%.

To truly appreciate this victory in fighting the gender wage gap in New Zealand, we can take a brief journey through the nation’s history of work toward equal pay.

New Zealand’s Work Towards Equal Pay

New Zealand National Tramways Union afforded equal pay to women in 1942. As women entered the workforce during World War II due to the shortage of male workers, the New Zealand National Tramways Union insisted women received the same pay as men. It became the nation’s first union to win equal pay for females working as tram conductors.

Almost two decades later, The Government Service Equal Pay Act was passed in 1960, thanks in part to the lobbying of the Council for Equal Pay and Opportunity (CEPO). The New Zealand government began to investigate equal pay in the country more holistically. The findings of that investigation led to the Equal Pay Act of 1972. This act gave women in both “private and public sectors” equal pay opportunities. By 1985, the gender wage gap diminished by 22%.

During that time in 1957, the collaboration among multiple New Zealand unions including the Māori Women’s Welfare League and the National Council of Women formed CEPO. The group began advocating for equal pay through raising awareness and educating people, political lobbying and more. CEPO was then revived in 1986 as the Coalition for Equal Value, Equal Pay and began work to disrupt male-dominated professions and fight for truly equitable pay for all New Zealanders.

In another effort to move the country toward pay equity as opposed to equality, the New Zealand Government formed the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles (JWG). The JWG developed principles and formal processes through which the government would field pay equity claims.

National Organisation for Women

One of the more structured groups of the women’s liberation movement in New Zealand was modeled after the National Organisation for Women in the United States. Founded in 1972 New Zealand’s National Organisation for Women (NOW) fought not just against the gender wage gap, but for gender equality in all areas of life. This includes legal protections.

Unfortunately, the organization in New Zealand didn’t have the same impact that it did in the U.S. so members decided to help in different ways. Many feminists took to community projects or attempted to tackle the gender wage gap in the corporate world.

New Zealand ranks 6th place in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2020. The Equal Pay Amendment Bill is not only an important step toward eliminating the gender wage gap in New Zealand but a great step toward narrowing gender gaps across multiple national benchmarks. This includes economic, educational, health, or political areas.

Despite a three-year stall in the nation’s gender pay gap, the New Zealand government’s continued focus on equal pay for work of equal value is bound to chip away at that gap and foster poverty reduction.

– Amy Perkins
Photo: Flickr

period poverty in new ZealandOn February 18, 2021, New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and associate education minister, Jan Tinetti, announced that all schools in New Zealand will offer free menstrual products starting in June 2021, expanding on a pilot program that started in 2020. This announcement aligns with the country’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy and is a major step toward eliminating the barriers created by period poverty in New Zealand.

Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy

The New Zealand government’s Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) launched the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy on August 29, 2019, with the vision of New Zealand becoming “the best place in the world for children and young people” to reach their full potential.

The six expected outcomes of this strategy are for children and young people to feel loved and safe, meet their material needs, be physically and mentally healthy, have access to education, receive acceptance for who they are and develop a sense of autonomy. These outcomes stem from the principle that children and young people are intrinsically valuable human beings with rights that must be respected. Furthermore, individuals and communities should act together as early as possible to promote the multifaceted well-being of children and young people.

Addressing Period Poverty in New Zealand

New Zealand’s free menstrual product program in schools aligns with the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy because period poverty is a significant barrier to a young person’s education. Prime Minister Ardern points to research showing that approximately one in 12 young people in New Zealand miss school because of being unable to manage their menstruation. Tinetti notes that many students who have their period while in school face embarrassment, stigma and discomfort and risk missing classes or not having the proper menstrual hygiene products.

Research from the New Zealand charity, KidsCan, found that up to 20,000 students at the primary, intermediate and secondary levels were at risk of period poverty. Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights and exacerbates challenges associated with period poverty, including the lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure and inadequate access to menstrual education as well as disrupted access to menstrual products.

The government’s new program expands on a pilot program that started in 2020 in which the government provided free menstrual products to more than 3,000 students in 15 schools in the Waikato region, located in northern New Zealand. Government officials used the feedback from the successful pilot program to inform its approach, with Tinetti noting that students wanted more information about the different kinds of menstrual products and how to manage their periods.

Other Period Poverty Programs

Private sector initiatives are also responding to period poverty in New Zealand by providing free menstrual products. For example, The Warehouse, one of the largest retailers in New Zealand, partnered with The Period Place to set up menstrual product donation boxes in several of its locations and provide free menstrual products in its store restrooms.

The Period Place is a New Zealand-based advocacy group whose vision is for New Zealand to be the first country to achieve period equity by 2030 in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Positive Periods is a coalition of 25 period poverty advocacy groups in New Zealand that advocate for the provision of free menstrual products in schools. In 2019, it released a discussion paper highlighting period poverty in New Zealand and its effect on educational outcomes. It also circulated a petition calling for free menstrual products in schools, which received more than 3,000 signatures.

The Road Ahead

Period poverty in New Zealand is an issue that affects the health and well-being of thousands of girls and women. The government’s free menstrual product program in schools is an important step toward ensuring that all girls and women can pursue an education and manage their menstruation with dignity.

Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Flickr

Child poverty in New Zealand
During the international struggle of dealing with COVID-19, New Zealand stood out as one of the few nations able to effectively and quickly minimize the virus. But the effects of COVID-19 on child poverty in New Zealand have worsened one of the country’s biggest social problems. More than 235,000 children live in poverty in New Zealand, a striking number considering New Zealand’s population of 4.8 million.

Child poverty in New Zealand is among the nation’s most dominant social issues. Tackling child poverty was a key tenant of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party Platform prior to her 2020 reelection. However, the economic fallout from the pandemic has hampered the government’s ability to deal with widespread poverty. Still, the government’s pandemic population assistance could be useful for taking on child poverty in the long term.

The Pandemic of Child Poverty

The New Zealand government defines child poverty across three measures. The first two include children living in low-income families before and after factoring in housing costs. The other encompasses children facing “material hardship.” Material hardship is a condition that a list of 17 factors in a child’s day-to-day life measures, such as owning two pairs of good shoes or having financial access to a doctor. If a child does not meet six of these items, the government considers them as living in material hardship. The government estimates that 13.4% of children in New Zealand were in material hardship in 2019 and that 20.8% of children lived in poverty after factoring in housing costs.

Even before COVID-19, the reduction of child poverty in New Zealand was challenging for the federal government. Even though Ardern and the Labour Party ran on the promise they would halve child poverty and material hardship by 2028, the percentage of children living below the poverty rate dropped by only 1.6% between 2018 and 2019. Early in 2020, UNICEF ranked New Zealand as having the 33rd worst record on child poverty out of 37 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

COVID-19 Response and Alleviating Poverty

The New Zealand government’s response to COVID-19 provided a number of economic and social safety nets to those the pandemic affected, dedicating 4% of its GDP to pandemic relief. New Zealanders received a weekly relief payment until June 30, 2020. The amounts ranged from $585 a week for full-time employees and $350 a week for part-time employees. The government also introduced wage subsidy programs for employers and employees, allowing families to earn their pre-pandemic income even if they were unable to work regular hours or at their place of employment.

According to the government’s 2020 Wellbeing Budget, these relief programs kept several families from slipping into poverty throughout the pandemic. In managing the COVID-19 crisis, Jacinda Ardern’s government found effective ways to manage child poverty in New Zealand. It did this through the subsidization of wages and relief programs with the intention of protecting household economic stability. In addition to wage subsidies and relief packages, the government has worked to fight poverty during the pandemic through:

  • Doubling the “Winter Energy Payment,” a welfare program with a design of helping low-income families and pensioners pay for energy bills.
  • Introducing a rent freeze to prevent low-income or unemployed households from eviction.
  • Negotiating with major banks on deferring mortgages.

The Future of Child Poverty Response

These benefits are temporary, with the purpose of shielding New Zealanders from the economic impact of the pandemic. However, the government is incorporating economic relief into its long-term plans to tackle child poverty in New Zealand. Labour’s 2020 Manifesto, which the government’s response to the pandemic shaped, includes extensive plans to assist low-income New Zealand households and workers. This includes extensions of COVID-19 relief programs, such as wage subsidies for those seeking employment.

Child poverty in New Zealand remains a high national priority for the government and the people of New Zealand. The government’s fast response to COVID-19 mitigated what could have been a disastrous increase in child poverty. Should Jacinda Ardern’s coalition government between Labour and the Green Party continue to follow the success of its COVID-19 response, New Zealand could take major strides in tackling child poverty.

– Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr

SDG 1 in New Zealand
World leaders adopted the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first of which is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere,” in 2015. In 2019, New Zealand leaders published the findings of the Voluntary National Review as New Zealand’s Progress Towards the SDGs – 2019. Through this report, others can learn the challenges facing the people of New Zealand, the strides the country has made thus far and improvements to come for each SDG, including updates on SDG 1 in New Zealand.

A key challenge New Zealanders face comes in the form of the inequities that can exist in poverty-related measures. According to New Zealand’s 2018 Census, 16.5% of the population are Māori (indigenous New Zealanders) and 8.1% are Pacific Islanders, who poverty disproportionately affects. Poverty is also worse among those living with disabilities. The updates on SDG 1 in New Zealand to follow, contextualized by the challenges the country faces and the goals for the coming years, yield a broad picture of the nation’s approach to poverty alleviation and successes thus far. Here are seven updates on SDG 1 in New Zealand.

7 Updates on SDG 1 in New Zealand

  1. Child Poverty Reduction and Wellbeing Acts: This legislation requires that the New Zealand government sets targets for three predetermined child poverty measures at both three- and 10-year intervals. The New Zealand government is also responsible for publishing annual reports on those measures as well as relevant indicators. For example, the 2020/21 target for the reduction of material hardship is from 13% to 10% of children, whereas the 2027/28 target stretches that to just 6% of children.
  2. Families Package and Wellbeing Budget: Through changes to tax credits, free school lunches, and more, the Families Package and Wellbeing Budget aimed to boost incomes of 62% of households with children in New Zealand, by 2021. According to a 2020 report, the Families Package had already improved the situation of 18,400 children enough for them to no longer live in poverty.
  3. Increase in the Minimum Wage: One of the clearest cut strategies for alleviating poverty was to increase the country’s minimum wage, with the expectation that the country will continue to increase it as the economy permits. New Zealand applied a 7.2% increase in 2019, followed by a 6.3% boost in 2020.
  4. Establishment of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group: The Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) has the task of advising the New Zealand government as to how and why the nation’s welfare programs should change in order to provide the most benefit to its people. Just a year after its establishment, WEAG completed a report detailing how the nation’s social security system ought to evolve. The report, Wakamana Tāngata – Restoring Dignity to Social Security in New Zealand, includes 42 recommendations for the nation to move from simply providing a safety net to restoring dignity to its citizens. WEAG’s approach emphasizes problem-solving through collaboration with researchers and stakeholders across the country.
  5. Public and Affordable Housing Expansion: Not only is work underway to provide additional options for public and affordable housing, but the New Zealand government also aims to improve the conditions for those living in rental housing. Housing costs are of particular importance when considering how to reduce inequities and poverty in general. In fact, data revealed that 14.9% of children lived in poverty in 2019 even beyond taking housing costs into account, whereas that proportion jumped to 20.8% after factoring in housing costs.
  6. Disability Action Planning: With a new Disability Action Plan having taken effect since the publication of the Voluntary National Review, it is pertinent to look at the most recent plan for 2019-2023. Through the detailing of 25 programs with the primary design of narrowing the gap in employment between disabled and non-disabled people, this plan serves to move New Zealand forward in line with the Disability Strategy 2016-2026.
  7. Broader Sample for Household Economic Survey: In the hopes of capturing a holistic picture of the financial situations of all its people, the New Zealand’s Household Economic Survey expanded its sampling to 20,000 people. With this more inclusive understanding of the impact of the economy on individual households, the nation’s leaders hope to be better equipped to address the challenges faced therein. As mentioned above, it is of vital importance that New Zealand not only combat the inequities among its citizens but also accurately measure them.

As with many countries, these updates on SDG 1 in New Zealand serve to share measures of the success achieved thus far, and as motivation to continue this important work. Other nations and leaders can also consider these points inspiration for strategies to combat poverty worldwide.

– Amy Perkins
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in New Zealand
Mental health in New Zealand became an important issue in the New Zealand 2017 general election. One survey from 2016/17 shows that 19% of New Zealand adults experienced anxiety and 20% experienced depression. In response to voter concern about low funding and a shortage of mental health professionals, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern created the well-being budget in 2019.

The Well-Being Budget’s Objectives

The well-being budget has five main objectives:

  • Transition to a sustainable, low-emission economy.
  • Support a digital age in the nation.
  • Raise Māori and Pacific economic position.
  • Reduce child poverty.
  • Support mental health.

Within the well-being budget, New Zealand has allocated $1.9 billion toward mental well-being specifically over five years. The aim of this new well-being approach in mental health is to replace New Zealand’s outdated Mental Health Act with a more comprehensive mental health framework that focuses on wider quality of life measures and making long-term improvements to the system of mental health services.

The Mental Health Act

New Zealand originally enacted its Mental Health Act, also known as the Compulsory Assessment and Treatment Act, in 1992. The act mainly concerns individuals who could be a danger to themselves or others. This act states that doctors should try to obtain a patient’s consent, but that it is not absolutely necessary; in fact, they can use a degree of coercion in attempting to get a patient’s consent. Many no longer consider this kind of treatment acceptable, so one of the main objectives New Zealand’s government set to improve mental health services within the well-being budget is to replace the Mental Health Act with a law that is more in line with international standards.

The Well-Being Budget

New Zealand’s mental health provisions in the well-being budget come out of a longer trend moving the focus of mental health treatment to recovery and social well-being. This movement stresses individuals’ rights to make the most informed decisions for themselves. To support mental health in New Zealand, the government set goals to establish the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, strengthen suicide prevention response, replace the Mental Health Act and expand access to services.

New Zealand’s plan for suicide prevention has a $40 million budget that will go toward bolstering existing services as well as place more nurses in secondary schools to reach students. Expanding access to mental health services also comes as a two-part plan. The first part involves making mental health services a part of existing primary care services and the second part involves increasing the workforce of therapists and psychologists that provide therapy for people that have mild to moderate mental health diagnoses.

Progress

While the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic placed additional stress on New Zealand’s mental health services, the country has still made considerable progress:

  • Passed the necessary legislation to create a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission (which should be operational by February 2021).
  • Used $40 million to create a Suicide Prevention Office and a suicide action plan.
  • Begun drafting to replace the 1992 Mental Health Act with the updated legislation.
  • Pledged $455 million toward new primary mental health and addiction services over the next five years.

The rollout of many of these new policies and services slowed down in 2020 to put more focus on the COVID-19 response, but expectations have determined that the rollout will pick up more in 2021. Mental health in New Zealand has come a long way, but the government still has not met all of the goals it laid out in the well-being budget.

– Starr Sumner
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in New Zealand
Like many other countries in the developed world, New Zealand has an aging population. Projections have determined that by 2036, one in 4.5 New Zealanders will be 65 and older. Although the COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique set of challenges for New Zealand’s elderly and exacerbated elderly poverty in New Zealand, programs exist to support this growing demographic.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 calls for an end to poverty in all forms. An important aspect of achieving this goal is addressing the specific issue of elderly poverty. The risk of falling into poverty increases with age because of a decreased ability to work, lack of savings and need for long-term care, among other factors. Public social security pensions and the availability of affordable health care are effective institutional solutions to respond to elderly poverty.

COVID-19 in New Zealand

In 2020, New Zealand has become the envy of the world for its swift and effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recording only 25 deaths, daily life in New Zealand is essentially back to normal. However, the country’s elderly population suffered the most during the pandemic. They have died and become critically ill in greater numbers compared to other age groups. New Zealanders aged 60 and older account for 15.9% of all recorded COVID-19 cases in the country, and 23 of all COVID-19 deaths. Many of those deaths happened in residential care facilities that lacked adequate PPE, testing and training. In May 2020, the New Zealand Ministry of Health introduced a detailed questionnaire for clinical professionals to complete on behalf of new residents and residents returning from the community and hospitals to assess when they should receive a COVID-19 test. The Ministry of Health expects that this new measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in residential care facilities will reassure health care providers, residents and their families about the safety of these facilities.

Elderly Poverty in Indigenous Communities

Elderly poverty in New Zealand is prevalent in Māori communities. According to the UN expert on older people Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, older Māori living in both urban and rural areas are “extremely vulnerable and disadvantaged.” Reporter Jenny Ling writes about the “hidden homeless” of New Zealand’s Far North region. Here, many elderly Māori individuals live in conditions comparable to the developing world. Cardboard lines and corrugated metal panels line houses and are often without electricity or running water. Local nurse and businesswoman Rhonda Zielinski runs a program that provides cabins to these individuals who pay what they can each week, giving them a chance to become homeowners. At the time that Ling published her report, more than one dozen individuals received their own cabin, and more than 100 people were on the waiting list.

The Old-age Pensions Act

Multiple nationwide programs exist to respond to elderly poverty in New Zealand. In 1898, it led the world in championing the rights of the elderly by being the first country in the world to create a pension system that tax dollars funded via the Old-age Pensions Act. Then-Prime Minister Richard Seddon and his Liberal government approached this from the understanding that a country has the responsibility of providing for elderly citizens who cannot provide for themselves. Individuals aged 65 and older who have lived in New Zealand for at least 10 years since they turned 20 qualify for old-age pension, although monthly payments may vary depending on factors such as relationship status and living situation.

KiwiSaver

In 2007, the New Zealand government introduced another program called KiwiSaver out of concern that New Zealanders were not saving enough money for retirement through private arrangements. KiwiSaver is a voluntary, government-subsidized program that allows both the KiwiSaver member and their employer to pay into it. Unlike old-age pensions, when KiwiSaver members withdraw their funds at age 65, they receive a lump sum, not monthly payments. KiwiSaver has had a positive impact on New Zealand’s economy as a whole, with 60% of its funds invested in the country and raising exports, employment, and GDP as a result.

The Better Later Life Strategy

Acknowledging the country’s shifting demographics and the challenges that many of its elderly individuals face, New Zealand’s Minister for Seniors, the Hon. Tracey Martin launched the Better Later Life Strategy in 2019. The principles of valuing people as they age, keeping people safe and embracing diversity guide the strategy. It also emphasizes the importance of collective responsibility and a whānau-centered (the Māori word for one’s extended family) approach to aging.

Local efforts such as the one created by Zielinski in the Far North, as well as the government strategies of their longstanding pension program, KiwiSaver, and the Better Late Life strategy, are all steps in the right direction to prevent elderly poverty in New Zealand, ensuring that all New Zealanders, Māori and non-Māori alike, can age with dignity.

– Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Flickr

New Zealand's Foreign Aid
A small country can have a big impact beyond its borders when it knows what it is doing. While the United State’s foreign aid receives significant attention, some pay considerably less attention to the efforts of nations in uniquely beneficial positions to help, such as New Zealand. Here is some information about New Zealand’s foreign aid.

Unique Location

New Zealand is far from its nearest big neighbors. This relatively small island of about 100,000 square miles and just under 5 million people brought the world the film adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings,” the comic musical duo Flight of the Conchords and what some call the best Sauvignon Blanc wines in the world. Despite a rich cultural impact, New Zealand also has a history of others overlooking it. On a world map or globe, New Zealand should show up to the right and slightly downwind of Australia. Instead, it almost looks like it went the way of the fabled Atlantis, swallowed up by the ocean, vanishing mysteriously without a trace, ready for adventurous archaeologists to make endless documentaries trying and failing to find it.

This modern mapmaking tendency to treat New Zealand like it went the way of the Dodo ended up turning into a tourism campaign that ran the tagline of “Getting New Zealand on the Map.” This happenstance showcases the humor and humility that Kiwis, the nickname for New Zealand citizens after the namesake unique bird, are known for. But while the country is breathtaking in its own right, perhaps its gifted application of focused foreign aid is what will really put New Zealand on the map in years to come.

New Zealand’s Foreign Aid and the Pacific Islands

While remote, New Zealand is not isolated in the sense of its outreach focus and capabilities. The country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has received praise for her empathetic approach to leadership which seems to extend to the foreign policy that her administration enacts. While New Zealand provides aid across many regions including Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, a particular focus goes to its closest neighbors in the Pacific Islands region. This includes countries known as small island developing States (SIDS) like Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa to name a few.

While undeniably beautiful, many of these islands are extremely remote making it challenging to provide them with a steady flow of viable trade and resources. The situation has worsened in part because the islands have also been among those that tend to experience significant natural disasters and environmental challenges. The UN reported that a fourth of all Pacific Islanders live below what it considers the basic needs poverty line.

This is where New Zealand comes in. As a nation that consistently ranks as having a high quality of life, it is working to provide aid to its fellow islanders. New Zealand is also arguably better equipped to understand the challenges facing island dwellers than larger landlocked nations governments.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT)

According to the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) website, its policy acts on the notion that stability in the region surrounding a homeland is crucial for the success and stability of the homeland as well. This type of foreign aid does not intend to be a charity endeavor, but rather an investment that has shown great promise in minimizing and even sidestepping unnecessary conflicts entirely. To that effect, roughly 60% of New Zealand’s Official Development Assistance funds go toward “…shared community interest in the prosperity and stability of the [Pacific] region.” The dollar amount of this contribution is around $1.331 billion and helps the collective efforts of more than 30 government agencies throughout the Pacific region.

MFAT sets criteria and monitors the implementation plans of the countries that receive these funds. The overarching aim of these allocations and efforts is to foster infrastructure and trade development. Like many nations that have significant foreign aid programs, the result is potentially mutually beneficial as new markets emerge in tandem with stable governments and societies. To understand the success of its programs as objectively as possible, MFAT has stated that it uses external evaluators. Such a strategy is one of increased accountability without crossing the line into overbearing and overregulated. MFAT also focuses on humanitarian outreach and disaster relief, again with a specified focus on the Pacific Islands region. It acts as a support rather than a domineering neighbor.

Uniquely Focused Scholarships

New Zealand offers a clever array of scholarships with different beneficial outcomes in mind. Of particular interest are the short-term training scholarships for pacific citizens which provide comprehensive skills training as well as valuable job experience. For those struggling in the Pacific Islands, an opportunity like this can provide them with a relatively quick and practical way to change their lives. An English Language Training for Officials Scholarship is also available to government officials from qualifying African and Asian nations. From workers making a livable wage to those governing entire countries, these educational focuses do well to showcase the different angles in which New Zealand is hoping to foster more stable communities near and far from home.

A Useful Blueprint

New Zealand’s efforts provide a wonderful blueprint that other small, but economically strong nations worldwide could apply. While a greater challenge, the largest developed countries could utilize its strategy in foreign aid practices. If New Zealand’s foreign aid practices show the world anything, it is that insurmountable problems seem more manageable when empathetic eyes view them.

– Jack Leggett III
Photo: Flickr