The purpose of this project is to provide insight into how wellbeing is tracking for key groups in Aotearoa New Zealand that were likely to be more or less affected by these policy changes: people receiving main benefits and different family types. It does so by combining nationally-representative survey and administrative data from 2008 through 2020/21 to examine wellbeing indicators across multiple domains, including economic and socioemotional wellbeing and access to healthy housing.
This work was commissioned by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) as part of the Families Package evaluation work programme. This work programme aims to measure the impact the suite of Families Package initiatives, primarily delivered through MSD and Inland Revenue, have had—and are having—on the economic and social wellbeing of New Zealanders.
See Methodological Report.
- Across many of the wellbeing indicators, there were persistent gaps between those who received a main benefit in the past year and those who had not. There were, however, some exceptions.
- People receiving a main benefit during the past year reported an improvement in income adequacy and consistent employment patterns since 2008. The economic gaps between those receiving a benefit and those not receiving a benefit, however, remained. The narrowing of the gap in income adequacy between 2018 and
2020 coincided with major legislative changes aimed at supporting low- and middle-income families, such as the Families Package.
Despite persistent economic, housing, and health gaps, there were few differences in socioemotional wellbeing and connectedness.
- There were few differences between those who received a main benefit in the past year and those who did not across socioemotional wellbeing indicators that tapped into life satisfaction, ability to express oneself, and family wellbeing.
- Those who received a main benefit reported similar levels of connectedness to friends, family and whānau as those who did not receive a benefit.
- These findings were despite large disparities in economic wellbeing across benefit receipt status—economic factors that are often associated with poorer social wellbeing.
- Although there were improvements in housing conditions over time for those receiving a main benefit, the gap in housing conditions between those who did and did not receive benefits persisted.
- These socioemotional wellbeing and connectedness trends continued into 2020, despite the potential shortterm impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other research has pointed to the resiliency of communities that might have served to promote socioemotional wellbeing during the initial phases of the pandemic.
Although economic and housing conditions improved from 2008 to 2020—and sometimes more so for sole parents—sole parents often still lagged behind on wellbeing indicators
- From 2008 to 2020, there were improvements among all family types across many of the economic and housing wellbeing indicators, and often greater improvements for sole parents who consistently had the poorest economic and housing outcomes in 2008. For example, the proportion of respondents reporting that their household did not meet everyday needs declined by ninepercentage points for couples with dependent children, five-percentage points for couples without dependent children, and 11-percentage points for single people without children. Among sole parents, by comparison, the decline was 24-percentage points.
- Despite these differences in rates of improvement, there were persistent gaps between sole parents and couples with and without dependent children, and single people without dependent children. Using income inadequacy, again, as an example, in 2020, 18% of sole parents reported not having enough money to meet everyday needs—three-to-four times higher than couples with (6%) and without (4%) dependent children, and 1.5 times greater than single people without children (12%)
There were few differences between sole parents and other family types across socioemotional, health, and social connectedness wellbeing indicators—either at any point across the study period (e.g., self-actualisation, connectedness to friends and whānau) or by 2020 (e.g., life satisfaction, family wellbeing, self-rated health, trust in institutions, victimisation).
- These findings were despite persistently worse economic wellbeing among sole parents—economic factors that are often associated with poorer social wellbeing
Examining the intersection of benefit receipt and family type highlighted that, among those receiving a main benefit, families with children experienced the greatest economic and housing conditions improvement
- When there were wellbeing gaps that narrowed from 2008 through 2020 between those who had received a main benefit and those who had not, this narrowing was more pronounced among those family types with less resources: sole parents, specifically, and parents, more generally.
- This narrowing occurred among economic (i.e., income adequacy, employment) and housing conditions (i.e., dampness, coldness)—key wellbeing indicators more likely (than other wellbeing indicators) to be influenced by
changes to the welfare system (e.g., increases to benefit rates and accommodation supplement, introduction of the winter energy payment, and Healthy Homes legislation that may have outsized impact on renters).
- Given that changes to the welfare system impact low-income families with children, more so than other working-age groups, it is intuitive that the narrowing of the wellbeing gap between those who received a benefit compared to those who had not would be more heavily concentrated among families with children.
There were few differences in socioemotional wellbeing and connectedness across the family types by main benefit receipt.
- There were few differences in socioemotional wellbeing and connectedness across the family types in terms of the disparities between those who received a main benefit and those who did not. That is, more often than not, there were no differences between those who received a main benefit and those who did not, and when there was, those patterns of disparities were similar across family types.
- This finding points to the salience of benefit receipt as a key sub-group—perhaps more so than family type—as a contributing factor or key sub-group stratifier when examining socioemotional wellbeing.
- This finding also points to sources of resilience in the lives of families who are being supported by the social safety net, and forms of support for parents who may be taking on more caregiving responsibilities, such as sole parents.