Maori remain a generation behind pakeha, new study shows

The disparities between Maori and pakeha show few signs of disappearing as the welfare state is geared to managing problems rather than providing solutions. Watch John Tamihere's interview with Susan Wood.

The urbanisation of Maori from the 1960s has led to much progress and higher material standards of living. But a new study also finds the cost of failure has been high and is rising.

Economist and social statistician Brian Easton’s Heke Tangata: Maori in Markets and Cities (Oratia Press) says while many Maori have successfully navigated the second great migration, they remain a generation behind pakeha in social and economic advancement.

The migration from rural areas accelerated in the mid-1960s when wool prices collapsed and the economy struggled to cope for two and a half decades, Dr Easton writes. Maori fell further behind as they lost government support programmes in the pro-market reforms of the 1980s.

Dr Easton’s study was commissioned by West Auckland-based Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust to update a classic study, The Maori People Today (1940), co-edited by Sir Apirana Ngata.

Trust chief executive John Tamihere says the aim is to provide an objective set of Maori statistics covering education, health, employment, income, wealth including housing, and the criminal justice system.

“There is a widely held misconception that Maori are preferenced by access to a whole bunch of funds,” he says.

“This is not true. The point of the book is to stop this emotion and the name-calling and get down to some brutal numbers. If we are going to continue to go down this track we have major problems as a country.”

'Brutal' figures
Dr Easton provides this summary of “brutal” figures:

• In educational achievement, Maori are 20 years behind pakeha – a Maori born in 1985 will have, on average, parents with a qualification level similar to that of the grandparents of the Pakeha born the same year.

• Unemployment is higher among Maori than is generally realised and they tend to be in low-income jobs.

• While life expectancy has increased, in 2011 it was the same as a non-Maori 25 years earlier. In 1946, Maori life expectancy was 20 years behind non-Maori.

• Maori incomes are lower than pakeha ones, with Maori males relatively lower than female ones.

• Maori are heavily over-represented in the jail population. Maori males make up 50% and women 60%.

• Maori have much lower wealth than pakeha, with consequential inferior housing, wellbeing, health and prospects.

No signs of disappearing
In the interview, Mr Tamihere says these disparities show few signs of disappearing as the welfare state is geared to managing problems rather than providing solutions.

Describing the billions of dollars in cost as a "national catastrophe," he accuses politicians and bureaucrats of sustaining a system that has spawned a host of agencies wedded to outdated delivery systems.

He cites the example of a nine-year-old abused girl who had contact with 14 agencies but none would take responsibility for her, each blaming the other for her plight.

“You’ve got helpers galore but none of them run integrated programmes where all that investment for one person works,” he says.

Taxpayers are being “punished” financially and in other ways because problem signs such as truancy in primary school are not being picked before they become obvious later in the form of anti-social behaviour and crime.

“Society is being double taxed on the deficit side – the criminal justice system – as well as on the positive with assistance in housing, education and welfare.”

He predicts gated communities in 15 years if these trends are not reversed.

Aversion to modern techniques
Mr Tamihere partly blames an aversion to modern techniques such as data mining and profiling that is used by organisations like his to identify the problem cases.

“We know where our apprentices are coming from in organised crime and we need to seize on that,” he says.

Universality of entitlements, such as free doctor visits and schooling, benefit the middle class but lack the effectiveness of targeting and incentives when it comes to lower-income groups.

“The welfare state does not reward getting off your backside and doing things and reward. It entraps and embeds co-dependence,” he says.

Mr Tamihere advocates a need for radically new approaches such as decentralisation and fewer funding sources so social workers and others are rewarded for solutions.

“They are funded off the failure, not the fix,” he says.

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