Wellbeing Concept should account for demographic changes

Kieran Madden

The Government is dead-set on improving “wellbeing” as the mark of their leadership, and “long-term intergenerational wellbeing” in particular.

This requires whipping out the binoculars and taking a strategic view, one that foresees well beyond the next few election cycles.

New Zealanders are ageing and becoming more ethnically diverse.

Plummeting Ratio

In 2038, there will be around twice as many people aged 65 and above than there are now.

The dependency ratio, the number of working-age people for ever older New Zealander, is set to plummet over the next few decades. From around seven working-age people for every older person in the mid-1960s to around five today.

In 2061, it is predicted that will be down to 2 to 1, a dramatic shift to say the least.

Due to a younger age profile, many of the working-age will be young Māori.

In 2038, 18.4% of the population will be Māori, compared with 15.6% now.

Te Puni Kōkiri recently outlined how in just under a decade, over half the Maori population is predicted to be under 30, forming a significant proportion of our labour force and tax base.

Increasing Maori people

We don’t, then, need binoculars to look to the future. We can just take a walk through South Auckland, where around 20% of the population are Māori.

This is our future, and we need to change the way we do things now for a better New Zealand then.

As Gael Surgenor, CEO of the pioneering Auckland Council Group, ‘The Southern Initiative’ said, South Aucklanders are sick of being seen as a problem to be solved. A threat. What is good for South Auckland, she claims, is good for Auckland, and that’s good for New Zealand. An opportunity. She’s right, and we would do well to listen.

There is a good case to invest in our young Māori and their whānau on wellbeing grounds, as the embodiment of the fair-go, or a faithful response to the Treaty.

But looking at the demographic trends, there’s a self-interested angle too.

If those in their working years now wish to enjoy the benefits of New Zealand Super when their time comes, it is in their interest to back any political initiatives that get behind young Māori and their whanau.

Being different

These need to include programmes that do things differently than we’ve always done, in ways that resonate with te ao Māori.

I am talking about whānau-based initiatives like Whānau Ora that go beyond simple redistribution, and place-based responses like The Southern Initiative that are embedded in the local community, just to name a few.

I challenge our politicians to reframe this from a threat to an opportunity; it doesn’t need to be a hard-sell. The “New Zealand way of life,” however it is understood, is set to change, but we can set a hope-filled narrative.

If we want one where older New Zealanders are supported as they are now, it’s important that we make a real investment in the future. Now is time to take that opportunity.

Kieran Madden is a Researcher at Maxim Institute based in Auckland.



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