What we heard
- Submissions confirmed our view that the causes of persistent disadvantage are interconnected and intergenerational.
- Vulnerable communities who experience persistent disadvantage are often overlooked by the system and are absent in the data.
- Submitters agreed that persistent disadvantage is not an isolated circumstance, but a cycle with multiple barriers preventing people from escaping.
The issue of persistent disadvantage resonated with submitters. Several submitters told us that some groups are more likely than others to experience persistent disadvantage. Many submitters highlighted the specific barriers stopping particular groups from accessing the support they need.
The causes of persistent disadvantage are interconnected and intergenerational
Submitters agreed that the causes of persistent disadvantage are interconnected and intergenerational. Submitters supported the interim report’s definition of disadvantage as holistic and not just focused on a single aspect of disadvantage:
"SSPA welcomes the discussion of the causes of persistent disadvantage (Chapter 4) and that the report highlights the interconnected factors that can compound in people’s and whānau lives, resulting in a person or family or whānau group becoming persistently disadvantaged. "(Social Service Providers Aotearoa, sub. DR129, p. 4)
"I agree with the importance of the first 3 years of children’s lives, which can be quite chaotic in disadvantaged families… There is a lot of good being done but more needs to be done earlier to prevent difficult situations getting worse. "(Valerie Dewe, sub. DR110, p. 2)
A submitter urged the Commission to not ignore the transmission of disadvantage across generations because of a lack of data:
"A lack of empirical data on the extent to which persistent disadvantage is intergenerational in Aotearoa New Zealand should not lead the Commission to ignore the well-established fact that a person’s chances of social advancement are significantly determined by their class background." (New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, sub. DR134, p. 8)
Communities who experience persistent disadvantage are often overlooked by the system
Several submissions focused on vulnerable communities being overlooked because they struggle to be heard by the system, or feel they are invisible. Examples provided by submitters included:
- children needing to be heard and supported in their early years;
- older people experiencing deteriorating material conditions;
- some vulnerable communities not being visible in the system.
Children need to be heard and supported in their early years
Social Service Providers Aotearoa suggested greater inclusion of the voices of children could lead to better outcomes for them:
"The direct perspectives and voices of children and whānau need to come through more strongly in the final report. Weaving in discussion of the factors that children and rangatahi identify as impacting their wellbeing and ability to chart their own course and thrive, as well as their hopes and aspirations, would strengthen the report." (Social Service Providers Aotearoa, sub. DR129, pp. 6–7)
Several submissions highlighted the complex and unique position of children in relation to persistent disadvantage (sub. DR90, 100, 107, 117, 119, 124, 127, 129, 139, 140).
Poverty Free Aotearoa (sub. DR139) and David King (sub. DR155) made the point that persistently disadvantaged households are likely to experience ‘toxic stress’1, which may prevent the future thriving of children. Several submissions agreed with the finding that early intervention to prevent disadvantage during a child’s early years is critical to breaking the cycle of disadvantage (sub. DR100, 124, 140).
Older people are experiencing deteriorating material conditions
A group of submissions challenged the omission of people over 65 in our quantitative analysis (sub. DR111, 116, 120, 152, 154). Several of these submissions identified deteriorating material conditions for many people approaching an older age:
"Our providers observe a growing population of older people who are not home-owners, who are reliant on employment beyond age 65 and/or are facing significant disadvantage due to lack of accessible, affordable, and stable housing, and increases in the cost of living." (New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, sub. DR120, p. 4)
According to the McGuinness Institute, poverty among older people is hidden in communities and those suffering persistent disadvantage are often too embarrassed to seek support (sub. DR154, p. 12).
Some vulnerable communities are not visible in the system
Several submissions expressed concern that disabled people (sub. DR142, 097, 152), neurodiverse people (sub. DR145, 101, 100), and those with mental health and addiction issues (sub. DR135, 122, 109, 108) were often ignored by the system, resulting in services that did not meet their needs or were difficult to access:
"So many of our families are tired of piece- meal half-assed approaches that “tinker at the edges” and don’t address the challenges and barriers they and their disabled child face." (Parents with Vision Impaired NZ, sub. DR97, p. 3)
Submitters suggested improvements to the way we define population groups and better data collection practices to help improve the visibility of vulnerable groups:
"It would be good to clarify the definition of ‘disabled people’ to know if people with experience of mental health and addiction are included within this definition." (Platform Trust, sub. DR122, p. 2)
Other submissions expressed concerns about the invisibility of ethnic minorities, refugee communities, and people with limited English proficiency (sub. DR95, 119, 150):
"Government approaches remain transactional and don’t acknowledge relationships with the communities. Over the years, there have been many huis and consultations held with the communities to get feedback. However, there is often no follow up efforts to build sustainable relationships with the communities." (ChangeMakers Resettlement Forum, sub. DR150, pp. 3–4)
Submitters also felt data collection practices about their communities are poor and an obstacle to accessing support through the system (sub. DR89, 150).
Persistent disadvantage is a cycle with multiple barriers preventing escape
The idea that persistent disadvantage is not an isolated event, but a cycle with multiple barriers preventing people from escaping, resonated with many submitters:
"The list of situations, life experiences and circumstances included in the interim report shows intersectionality at play for many children, rangatahi, families and whānau where persistent disadvantage is part of their reality, and how different aspects of their identity or situation lead to them experiencing overlapping forms of discrimination and/or marginalisation." (Social Service Providers Aotearoa, sub. DR129, p. 4)
Several submitters provided examples of the features of this cycle and how different drivers interact and prevent people from escaping persistent disadvantage. Three common examples were:
- the system not working for everyone;
- digital provision of social services excluding the people who would benefit the most; and
- toxic stress being a major barrier to breaking the cycle of disadvantage.
The system doesn’t work for everyone
The system’s individualistic principles make it difficult for people from communities grounded in collective values to effectively engage with the system:
"A person applies for a $400 food grant for the “whānau” but the case manager is only prepared to approve $150. The case manager explains they are only able to provide assistance to the “immediate family”. Other family members living at the same address will have to make separate applications for a food grant." (Poverty Free Aotearoa, sub. DR139, p. 2)
The system’s limited accommodation of different worldviews means that its services are culturally inappropriate for many people. For these people and their communities, it creates mistrust of the system and its services. People who do not trust or “see themselves” in the system are more likely to stop trying to access support from services:
"People may simply be unwilling to apply if they have to go into a WINZ office and discuss, with a perfect stranger, very personal family matters in order to qualify for this benefit. Some people simply refuse to apply despite the fact that they may be entitled to a benefit of several hundred dollars. It’s just all too demeaning." (Poverty Free Aotearoa, sub. DR139, p. 3)
Digital provision of social services often excludes the people who would benefit the most
There are other ways in which the principles behind service delivery can create barriers for disadvantaged people. We heard from multiple submissions that digital by default policies in the provision of social services often excluded the people who would benefit most from accessing those services (sub. DR130, 136, 140, 142):
"The groups who have the most to gain from the digital world, including families on low incomes, seniors, Māori, Pacific peoples, those with disabilities, those new to Aotearoa and our remote communities, are often the ones who face barriers." (Digital Equity Coalition, sub. DR136, p. 3)
Toxic stress is a major barrier to breaking the cycle of disadvantage
Several submissions identify toxic stress as a major barrier to breaking the cycle. A submitter drew the inquiry’s attention to the role of toxic stress in preventing children from getting a good start in life:
"Children in households where parents are constantly worrying about where they are going to find the money to pay the bills, pay the rent, put food on the table, are going to experience chronic stress… While we may attempt to address the symptoms by, for example counselling, unless we relieve the stress in the home through appropriate income support measures, these children will continue to endure chronic stress and anti-social behaviour." (Poverty Free Aotearoa, sub. DR139, p. 6)