Nova workboard

a blog from young economists at Nova SBE

Poverty in New Zealand: How disparities between Maori and Non-Maori continue to rise

By Charlotte Dyer

Being brought up in New Zealand where equality and fairness are prevalent ideologies demonstrated and up-held by members of society, recent reports regarding increasing poverty rates amongst the nations native people (Maoris’), provides concerning statistics. In particular, Maori children are those being affected the greatest, with evidence painting a comprehensive picture of disability and chronic conditions in Maori young.  The Ministry of Health recently published a report, highlighting that as in statistics for educational achievement and employment rates, the disparities between Maori and the rest of the population are unacceptably wide, with Maori at the bottom of the heap (Otago Daily Times, 2012). Alarming figures also report that just over half of the 200,000 New Zealand children living below the poverty line are Maori and have hardship rates two or three times higher than other groups. They are more likely to live in over-crowded households and are more likely to be admitted to hospital as a result of assault, neglect or maltreatment (Salmond, 2012). As a citizen, it is often hard for me to comprehend that other New Zealander’s are living in such shocking and debilitating circumstances. Several questions must be answered regarding how and why Maori people are facing such a bleak outlook. What has led this particular cohort to be affected so significantly by poverty, and in particular why is Maori are Maori unemployment rates so high? It is an extremely controversial and topical discussion, and particularly reinforces the importance of prevention, primary care and disability support services specifically for Maori children and young people.

Firstly, it is important to take a look at the history of the Maori people to gain a broader understanding and scope of potential factors that have lead this ethnic group to be facing such poverty. The Maori originated with settlers from Eastern Polynesia, arriving in several waves at some time before the 1300 CE. The settlers were isolated for several centuries, thus developing a unique culture with their own language, a rich mythology, distinctive crafts and performing arts. Europeans began arriving in New Zealand from the beginning of the 17th century, brining significant change to the Maori way of life. While an initial relation between the two cultures was amicable, the ambiguity in the translation of the Treaty of Waitangi between the two languages, lead to conflict particularly over land issues. Social upheaval, decades of conflict and epidemics of introduced disease, took a devastating toll on the Maori population, which as a result went into a dramatic decline. Continued cultural isolation and the disproportionate number of Maori’s in New Zealand have become extremely evident over the past decades. This was also combined with Maori receiving lower wage levels compared to non-Maori’s and not being granted pensions until the end of the 20th century. As a result, some Maori people feel a vain nostalgia for a largely lost Polynesian world, and a deep resentment against what they received in exchange. Thus, this has somewhat created a deep divide between cultures, and can be identified as a contentious issue in regards to race relation within New Zealand society (History Today, 2012).  The disparities between Maori and non-Maori are within the context of the Status of Maori’s as indigenous people, the history of land and other resource alienation from Maori during colonisation and development.  This feeling of abandonment and neglect can therefore be seen as a potential underlying factor that has contributed to the position in which a large proportion of Maori face today.

Firstly, employment levels are an area that must be reviewed. Over the last few decades, Maori unemployment has been consistently higher than New Zealand Europeans. Statistics calculated in 2012 show that the unemployment rates for Maori was 13.8% in, which is 6.0% higher than its level five years ago. Compared with the unemployment rate for all people, which was 6.8% in the year to September 2012, the Maori rate has increased more sharply. Refer to Appendix 1. (Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment, 2012).  It is thus interesting to identify what reasons have led Maori’s to be more likely unemployed compared to their non-Maori counterparts. Firstly, one must look to the past to see how it is that the Maori people face significantly higher unemployment rates. The destruction of classical and post-classical Maori society in the nineteenth century left the Maori as a rural, poor, landless, and marginalized people. From the mid twentieth century the Maori began to move to the cities, sucked there in part by the favourable labour markets. However they were not there long enough to bed in before unemployment began to rise to serious levels in the 1970s. Thus they were trapped with a labour market configuration based on rural experiences migrating into a tight employment labour market, when the labour market deteriorated and no longer needed those workers (Easton, 1994). Education levels are another point of reference, with statistics illustrating that only 47% of Maori school-leavers finish school with qualifications higher than NCEA Level One; compared to 74% European and 87% Asian (Wikpedia, 2012).  Some blame the students themselves or their families for this situation, while others argue that other factors, such a low socio-economic status is to blame. Therefore, Maori young are less attractive to employers based on educational and skill qualifications, both of which are associated with better job prospects. As a result, if employed, Maori people are more likely to work in manufacturing and wholesale jobs (refer to Appendix 2) (Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment, 2012). These jobs offer minimum level wages, which barely allows one to cover their basic needs and cost of living.

Research by Brian Easton (1994) indicates that other factors apart from personal characteristics (e.g. skill and education level) affect the low rate of Maori employment compared to non-Maori. Easton reports that only a third of the difference in employment participation between the two cohorts can be explained by differences in recorded personal characteristics. He raises the question of whether the ‘marioness’ factor has any contribution, based on genetic predisposition, attitude differences, and potential employer discrimination. This again brings forth matters concerning race relations, and whether racism, particularly in the work place exists in 21st century New Zealand. In general, statistics show that Maori are ten times more likely to experience racial discrimination in three or more settings than were European participants. Specifically, there is also evidence that Maori face discrimination in the labour market; in getting a job, in the type of job obtained, and the wages paid for a particular type of work (Robson, Cormack, & Cram, 2010).  Take a particular example recently published in a national newspaper; Julia Eru, 20, a part Maori/English student studying hospitality management, put forth several applications for part-time work. She used her original name on the application forms. However, much to her disgust, she received several racial comments from some employers, with one stating “sorry we don’t hire blacks, no offence meant” (Willis, 2009). While this is an extreme case, it highlights that issues surrounding racism are still evident in New Zealand, and must be addressed in accordance to Maori and the labour market.

While employment is only one the tip of the iceberg in relation to issues facing Maori poverty rates, it is an issue that be raised. It can be identified that this is a deadly cycle, where parents or solo-parents, are unable to provide sufficiently for their children if they are un-employed or receiving minimum wages. As a result, these children are more likely to be malnourished, live in worse off conditions, have significant health issues, therefore meaning they are less productive and thus continue to live within the poverty cycle. The New Zealand Government does provide welfare assistance through benefits, however is this enough to ‘break the cycle’? There is evidence to suggest that welfare payments disrupt the natural order of social structure and human incentives, where the greater the level of welfare, the greater the disruption (Mitchell, 2009). In terms of welfare policy, many stand at a crossroad regarding whether they are actually beneficial or not. If the government does not provide welfare, Maori individuals in trouble could be driven into further addiction and dysfunctional behaviour. However, on the other hand others argue that providing more benefits and higher payments will only provide incentives for individuals to put in no effort through accessing easy money.  This is something that the New Zealand Government has taken into consideration, and there is an on-going debate as to what is the right method. Personally, I believe that benefits should still be accessible for all. However, these benefits I feel should be run in accordance with some form of skill training that will eventually allow these individuals to gain some form of employment. Implementing the correct policy is critical in this situation, thus the New Zealand Government must take everything into consideration when making these important decisions.



Easton, B. (1994, November 13). The Maori in the Labour Force. Retrieved November 29, 2012, from Labour Employment Work in NZ:

History Today. (2012). The Maoris in New Zealand History. Retrieved November 29, 2012, from History Today:

Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment. (2012, September). Maori Labour Market Factsheet. Retrieved November 29, 2012, from Labour & Immigration Research Centre:…/lmr-fs-maori-sep12.pdf

Mitchell, L. (2009). Maori Welfare: A Study of Maori Economic and Social Progress. Working Paper, New Zealand Business Rountable.

Otago Daily Times. (2012, March 23). Maori Health and poverty. Retrieved November 28, 2012, from Otago Daily Times:

Robson, B., Cormack, D., & Cram, F. (2010). Social and Economic Indicators. Maori Standards of Health.

Salmond, A. (2012). New report reveals brown social underclass in New Zealand. Retrieved November 28, 2012, from Every Child Counts:

Wikpedia. (2012). Maori People. Retrieved November 29, 2012, from Wikipedia:

Willis, L. (2009, July 24). Job seeker shocked by racist email. Retrieved November 20, 2012, from



Author: studentnovasbe

Master student in Nova Sbe

Comments are closed.