Media release: Poverty poorly understood despite the talk

25 February, 2016

Wellington (25 February 2016): New Zealand’s abundant poverty statistics should not be reduced to a single headline-grabbing number, a new report from The New Zealand Initiative argues.

Poorly Understood: The state of poverty in New Zealand shows that poverty is a complex and multi-faceted issue and choosing attention-getting figures too often oversimplifies what is a very real problem.

“Poverty in New Zealand is frequently discussed and we are always seeing new statistics on poverty. However, some measures overlook those living in real hardship, while other measures do not capture the worrying effects of rising housing costs,” said Dr Oliver Hartwich, Executive Director of The New Zealand Initiative.

“We knew that housing affordability was a substantial problem before we started this research, but we did not know how important it was. One measure shows an eight percentage point decrease in the number of children living in poverty from 1982 to 2014, but that is measured before housing costs. After housing costs, it instead shows a five percentage point increase over the same period.”

“The public conversations and the policy debates are not always focussed on the households struggling the most.”

The New Zealand Initiative says that work on reducing poverty requires better informed policy debates and improved public understanding.

“Grand claims based on headline-friendly statistics fail to capture the heart of the problem or help those who are most in need of assistance”, said Dr Hartwich.

“The researchers, Bryce Wilkinson and Jenesa Jeram, have done a great job in showing us all of the complexity that underlies conversations about poverty. The New Zealand Initiative intends to talk to as many organisations, researchers and specialists in the field as it can to try and achieve greater transparency in the important discussions that New Zealanders need to have.”

“We want to see real progress made in addressing poverty and it is essential to recognise who is suffering the most in New Zealand, and what their needs are, to ensure we are heading in the right direction.”

In addition to definitions, the report also looks at measures, causes and the history of poverty.

Poorly Understood is The New Zealand Initiative’s first report in a series of three focusing on poverty, inequality and welfare. The second report will be made public mid2016 and the third report, which will make specific policy recommendations, will be released in early 2017.

Download Poorly Understood: The state of poverty in New Zealand



About The New Zealand Initiative

The New Zealand Initiative is an evidence-based think tank and research institute, which is supported by a membership organisation that counts some of the country’s leading visionaries, business leaders and political thinkers among its ranks.  

Our members are committed to developing policies to make New Zealand a better country for all its citizens. We believe all New Zealanders deserve a world-class education system, affordable housing, a healthy environment, sound public finances and a stable currency.  

The New Zealand Initiative pursues this goal by participating in public life, and making a contribution to public discussions.  

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