The effect of inequitable social and economic circumstances in perpetuating negative outcomes is another key issue discussed in our workshops. Even if structural discriminatory policies and practices were to be eliminated from schooling, for example, students who live in poverty
, with malnutrition, overcrowded households, or surrounded by crime
, would still be less likely to achieve in school at the same levels as students with social and economic advantages.
The Child Poverty Action Group’s 2011 report, Hunger for Learning: Nutritional barriers to children’s education looks at the situation of social and economic circumstances for children in decile 1 and 2 schools and effects on education. Principals spoke of parents working long hours, often with multiple jobs and insecure and/or overcrowded housing. Overcrowding often means children had nowhere to read or do homework. The report says:
Children from lower socioeconomic families, Mäori and Pasifika children, are more likely to come to school hungry, and, as a result, are more likely to be lacking important nutrients in their diets, be unable to concentrate at school, and suffer from obesity and being overweight. This disparity increases as children get older ... Lack of breakfast therefore emerges as both a symptom and a cause of the well-documented health, educational and social inequities found among New Zealand’s children and young people.64
Hunger for Learning urges government support for a programme to provide breakfast in decile 1 and 2 schools. It recognises that this is not a long-term solution, but a potentially effective measure in addressing the negative impacts of child poverty.
Access to safe, affordable and good quality housing is another key determinant of well-being. Race Relations in 2010 highlights the existence of ethnic inequalities in housing.65 Researchers Robson, Cormack and Cram also note that “household crowding, poor dwelling conditions and insecure tenure impacts on education, health and access to local services”.66 Lack of access to affordable housing as well as poor quality housing can be an outcome of structural discrimination. Māori face barriers to home ownership, for example, in not being able to provide papakāinga (multiple-owned) land as collateral to banks when seeking loans. The kāinga whenua loan scheme, introduced in February 2010, seeks to remedy this barrier.67
Failure to address the root causes of these socio-economic inequities, including poverty, is itself a form of structural discrimination. The continuing gap in socio-economic indicators between ethnic groups underscores the need to tackle structural sources of inequality. As such, a comprehensive policy approach should take into account and seek to address both structural barriers to equality and embedded social and economic factors.
This section examines four key systems – health, education, justice and the public service – and analyses the ways in which structural discrimination manifests in each of them.68 Each systemic overview is followed by a case-study or case-studies of government initiatives that either explicitly or implicitly address issues of structural discrimination within each of the systems. Each case study offers key factors for success and factors for sustainability.
The Commission cautions, however, that these initiatives are not discussed as the model for success, nor a “silver bullet” solution to the complex manifestations of structural discrimination. They are simply promising approaches. In some instances where the initiatives are recent, there has not been sufficient evaluation to offer conclusive evidence of their impact. Nonetheless, they offer a place to start.
There are many other promising initiatives that are not mentioned here. The Commission will continue to gather examples of good practice and useful resources and publicise them through a dedicated web resource.
Significant and deep-seated ethnic disparities in health and well-being continue to afflict New Zealand and there is a good amount of research examining these disparities in relation to structural discrimination. In this section, health is examined broadly, looking at access to health care, quality of care received and the diversity of the health workforce.
Māori have the poorest health of any New Zealand group, with higher mortality rates than non-Māori and higher rates of illness. Avoidable death rates for Māori are two and a half times the rate of other New Zealanders69 and Māori die on average 7-8 years earlier.70 Māori babies are more than five times more likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome than non-Māori babies.71 Māori adult all-cancer mortality rates are almost twice that of non-Māori.72There are wide disparities too between Māori and non-Māori in complications from diabetes: renal failure is more than eight and a half times higher for Māori than non-Māori and lower limb amputation is more than four and a half times higher.73 These gaps in health disparities between Māori and non-Māori persist even after controlling for socio-economic deprivation.
Pacific peoples also have disproportionately poor health outcomes with nearly twice the rate of avoidable mortality as other New Zealanders and have experienced the least improvement in life expectancy over the past 20 years.74 Pacific peoples are three times more likely to die of a stroke than the general New Zealand population and have higher rates of lung, liver and breast cancers.75 Pacific peoples turn up for GP appointments at higher rates than the general New Zealander population, but experience worse outcomes and receive fewer referrals, despite having a higher burden of disease.76
Rheumatic fever – a preventable disease that is close to non-existent in other OECD countries – is a specific area that disproportionately impacts Māori and Pacific children. Māori are 20 times more likely and Pacific people 37 times more likely to be hospitalised with acute rheumatic fever, compared to non-Māori.77 Left untreated, or if treatment is delayed, it can cause damage to the heart and have a long-term serious impact on a person’s health. According to the Medical Director of the National Heart Foundation of New Zealand, Professor Norman Sharpe, the persistence of rheumatic fever in New Zealand “represents one aspect of our failure to achieve a fair society and health equity for Maori and Pacific peoples.” 78 In March 2012, the government specifically singled out reducing rheumatic fever rates as a priority target.79
There is a notable absence of comprehensive data available on the health status of Asian communities when compared to Māori and Pacific communities. According to Ruth DeSouza of the Centre for Asian and Migrant Health Research, Asian ethnic groups “have been largely neglected by New Zealand health policies and research, despite their long history in New Zealand and recent population growth.”80 However, growing evidence concerning health disparities amongst Asian ethnic groups has led to an increasing recognition and focus on Asian-specific research. Recent research shows notable disparities for Asian peoples in access to health services. Asian people are less likely to have a primary health care provider an exhibit high levels of chronic disease, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, particularly in some Asian ethnic groups such as Indians.81 According to an Auckland District Health Board report on the status of Asian health in New Zealand: “the percentage of adult Chinese and Other Asians who have a regular health care provider (82 per cent and 81 per cent, respectively) is so much lower than for Europeans (95 per cent) that it warrants further research to rectify this inequity in access to basic health care services.”82