Salvation Army State of the Nation 2023 report provides snapshot of social realities

Social pressures in New Zealand are rising, according to the Salvation Army’s sixteenth annual ‘State of the Nation 2023’ report.

These pressures are hitting people from several directions.

WelCom March 2023

Social pressures in New Zealand are rising, according to the Salvation Army’s sixteenth annual ‘State of the Nation 2023’ report.

These pressures are hitting people from several directions.

The report points to the escalating cost of living, increased household debt, lack of affordable housing and worsening education outcomes. It notes ever more young people are reporting psychological distress.

The State of the Nation report pulls together existing data to provide an annual snapshot of New Zealand’s social progress as a nation.

‘The report acknowledges the very real pressures increasingly and significantly affecting people’s lives as inflation begins to bite and people struggle to feed their whānau, to find work and secure warm, dry affordable accommodation,’ says Lt-Colonel Ian Hutson, director of The Salvation Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit.

The six sections of the report cover Children and Youth, Work and Incomes, Housing, Crime and Punishment, Social Hazards and Māori Wellbeing.

Lt-Colonel Hutson notes the employment market remains ‘disturbingly ineffective’ at finding work for young people, Māori and Pasifika people.

Last September, the unemployment rate was more than twice as high for Māori (6.8%) and Pasifika workers (6.4%) than Asian and European workers.

Financial disparity is also clear, with one in five Pacific households reporting having not enough money.

Māori households were twice as likely as European or Asian households to be trying to survive on insufficient resources.

That adds pressure on those people’s lives in particular. ‘The lowest income households are among the hardest hit,’ Hutson says.

Our social wellbeing is not just about money either. There are other pressures too – again especially negatively affecting Māori and Pasifika people.

The research found about a fifth of rangatahi Māori aged 15 to 24 years were not in employment, education or training. That’s over twice the non-Māori rate.

Alcohol consumption is at hazardous levels for one third of Māori.

The report theme also hints at a broader collective set of costs a society needs to take into account. ‘These need to support people to live fulfilled lives – and avoid the very real social and economic costs of inequality,’ says Hutson.

The Salvation Army hopes the election year will find political leaders taking action to address social disparities and support communities to meet the ‘costs of living’. This includes an emphasis on enabling legislation and effective policy in housing and stronger regulation around gambling-related harm.

While child poverty and hardship have been reducing, child poverty rates are still high – especially Māori and Pasifika children.

The proportion of young people aged 15 to 24 years are reporting high levels of psychological distress. Education outcomes have worsened. School attendance rates have declined.

For some, housing has improved, but the rental market remains tight and in general rents have steadily increased.

Worryingly, average household debt – driven by housing debt along with consumer and credit card debt – has increased to its highest level in more than 15 years.

The report also notes crime and punishment has increased in the past year, although the number of alleged offenders and proceedings against them by police declined significantly. Pandemic-related backlogs and increased jury trials contributed to the highest proportion ever of people on remand – 41 per cent.

Positive outcomes

Fortunately, the report’s findings aren’t all negative.

Hazardous drinking has declined in general; cannabis and methamphetamine convictions have declined; and people are withdrawing their KiwiSaver savings for hardship reasons.

Māori are seeing improvements in some areas: a sharp reduction in the Māori infant mortality rate and a reduction in the large gap between offending rates for rangatahi Māori and non-Māori.

There’s also been an increase in the proportion of Māori who report being able to speak more than a few words and phrases in te reo.

The full report can be found at:

Sources: Salvation Army; CathNewsNZ; Stuff