Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Treasury’s first wellbeing report a mixed bag

The Treasury has today released its first ‘big picture’ overview of wellbeing in New Zealand – Te Tai Waiora: Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand 2022.

Treasury Secretary, Caralee McLiesh said the report established a lasting evidence base that would be used by the Treasury and other organisations to understand the trends, distribution and sustainability of wellbeing.

The report draws on the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework and He Ara Waiora, a framework that helps the Treasury to understand waiora, often translated as a Māori perspective on wellbeing.

“Overall, the report tells us that we are healthier, better off and safer than previous generations,” Dr McLiesh said.

“Compared to many other developed countries, New Zealand is a good place to live. For example we rate above the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average for life satisfaction, coming in ahead of countries like Australia and the UK and just behind Denmark and Switzerland.

“However, there are areas where we do not perform as well as other developed nations, areas where we are doing worse over time and there are differences in wellbeing within Aotearoa New Zealand.”

Dr McLiesh said one of the most striking insights in the report is that New Zealand’s younger people fare less well than older people on many measures.

“In particular, higher levels of psychological distress and declining educational achievement for younger generations raise risks for wellbeing across their own lives and future generations. The young are also more likely to be priced out of the housing market or to be renting poor quality homes,” she said.

Chief Economic Adviser, Dominick Stephens said some groups of New Zealanders fare poorly on many measures of wellbeing.

“Many New Zealanders experience low wellbeing in one way or another, but make up for this with high wellbeing in another aspect of life. Yet five to ten percent of us face persistent low wellbeing on a number of fronts. People with disabilities, people living in sole parent families, Māori, and Pacific people are disproportionately represented in this group,” he said.

“Te Tai Waiora considers Māori wellbeing from a Māori perspective. Māori wellbeing has been improving in many ways, but gaps between Māori and the broader population remain. These gaps are closing slowly at best.”

The report also identifies a number of risks to future wellbeing. These include climate change and biodiversity loss, the relatively high exposure that New Zealand has to natural disasters and increasing geopolitical instability.

“The unpredictable nature of many of these risks highlights the importance of building our resilience in a way that is flexible to many different risks and managing our resources in a way that provides buffers against future shocks,” Dr McLiesh said.

Mr Stephens added that “climate change is perhaps the biggest risk facing us. Society will need to adapt to a warmer world and to emitting less greenhouse gasses. Our ability to sustain wellbeing through this transition will depend on societal choices, technology and productivity.”

“Te Tai Waiora also highlights the critical importance of lifting productivity to improve living standards and wellbeing,” Dr McLiesh said. “Our ability to provide health, education and welfare services, fund institutions, invest in housing and preserve the natural environment all depend on improving productivity. Compared with other developed countries our productivity rates have been persistently poor.”

Dr McLiesh said the issues highlighted in the report were longstanding and complex and defied quick and simple solutions, with many shared by other developed nations.

She said the purpose of Te Tai Waiora is to provide a broad and long-term perspective on what New Zealand is doing well and what it could do better, rather than to suggest specific solutions to these complex issues. The report complements more traditional indicators of progress, such as economic growth.

Dr McLiesh said the Treasury would draw on the insights and evidence base provided by Te Tai Waiora to inform its advice to the government of the day on priorities.

Under the Public Finance (Wellbeing) Amendment Act, the Treasury is required to provide an independent report on wellbeing in New Zealand at least every four years. Te Tai Waiora is the first of these reports.

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