Kieran Madden

By Kieran Madden - 20/05/2014

Kieran Madden

By Kieran Madden -

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Pockets of deprivation

For over twenty years, University of Otago researchers have been harnessing census results to shed light on New Zealand’s most deprived suburbs and areas using a tool called NZDep. Used for allocating resources like DHB funding, guiding research on the causes and consequences of poverty and aiding advocacy for community groups, deprivation indices are an excellent complement to income measures. 

Results from the 2013 Census have just been made available, see here for the detailed research report, and here for an faq document

The wonderful thing about the University of Otago’s geographically-based research is the ability to draw up maps. While graphs and tables are essential, other visualisations can be easier for us to grasp, simplifying a complex reality. 

For an outstanding example of this, check out the Herald’s interactive map (if you click on one link in this post, make it this one) of the latest results—it paints a vivid picture of suburbs and areas in New Zealand, dark red being the most deprived; dark green the least deprived on the NZDep scale. You can zoom to see where your suburb or area ranks, or perhaps just to see how striking the difference is within Auckland. Here’s the map from 2006 too. 

But what precisely are we looking at here? Peter Townsend, an eminent poverty researcher from the UK, famously defined deprivation as “a state of observable and demonstrable disadvantage relative to the local community or the wider society or nation to which an individual, family or group belongs.” It includes both material and social deprivation, that is, lacking material or social resources to participate in New Zealand society today. This definition can be transformed into a bewildering array of survey items, but this particular index looks at the proportions of people in areas: 

  1. 1. aged < 65 with no access to the internet at home;

  2. 2. aged 18 – 64 receiving a means-tested benefit;

  3. 3. living in low-income households;

  4. 4. aged 18 – 64 unemployed;

  5. 5. aged 18 – 64 without any qualifications;

  6. 6. not living in own home;

  7. 7. aged < 65 living in a single parent family;

  8. 8. living in overcrowded households; and

  9. 9. with no access to a car.

The more items ticked off on the list by people in an area, the more deprived that area is likely to be.  Interestingly, access to a telephone was changed this year to access to the internet to reflect changing societal norms. It’s increasingly difficult to apply for a job or remain in social contact with friends and family without the internet for example. 

Also of interest is that to check the validity of the scale, researchers compared the results with smoking patterns—a factor known to be strongly associated with socio-economic deprivation. While this particular research focuses on geographical areas, MSD’s world-leading work on individuals’ living standards is worth a look too. See Section K in MSD’s report from the Household Economic Survey for the latest on what MSD calls material hardship, another name for deprivation. 

Research like this is crucial to identifying struggling areas and households so we can do our best to help them. Quality data is the first step on the long march towards this goal—hats off to the Otago researchers for their ongoing and valuable contribution.

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Kieran Madden

By Kieran Madden -

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