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The impacts of colonisation on tāngata whenua, and the subsequent loss of assets and an economic base, have been well recorded[31]. In the long run, this has contributed to over 50% of Māori children growing up in households receiving a main benefit. This was not just about Māori being economically disenfranchised but also the impact of erosion of culture and the experience of racism that fuelled a reliance on the low levels of main benefits to survive. Bias in services was a point made in the 1986 report Puao-Te-Ata-Tu from the Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Māori Perspective for the then Department of Social Welfare and continued to be made to us in our consultation.

While social security cannot fix these long-term patterns, their impacts can be ameliorated with adequate welfare support and mana in how people are treated. This is guaranteed under Article 2 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi).

We heard how the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) is looking at its future role, including a focus on mana manaaki – to build the mana of others and uplift them in a way that honours their dignity. We support this approach.

"The welfare system is belittling of the mana and integrity of our people – kuia, kaumātua, matua, tamariki, mokopuna."


The introduction of Whānau Ora responded to the need for a way to provide support that recognised and built on the strengths and assets of whānau to encourage whānau development (Boulton et al, 2014; Te Puni Kōkiri, 2018). There was concern that health and social services often intervene after matters go wrong for an individual, rather than intervening to restore full whānau functioning or extend whānau capabilities. It arose due to concerns that contracting practices had led to many Māori providers competing for contracts, which fostered a piecemeal approach to services and inhibited collaboration and coordination. In 2009, the then Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector secured Cabinet’s agreement to set up a taskforce to address these concerns. The New Zealand Productivity Commission (2015: 20) concluded that steps could be taken to strengthen Whānau Ora and that it “embodies concepts important to Māori and holds much potential to improve Māori wellbeing and mana whakahaere [the power to manage; authority]”.

Māori expressed a strong desire to be in the driving seat of their own solutions to the endemic problems that erode mana and whānau. However, social security remains an obligation on the state. Baker (2010: 12) argues there “is a greater maturity and a desire for integrated solutions. From this platform both Treaty partners are increasingly forming governance to governance partnerships to address crucial issues”. She adds the “landscape allows room for Māori entrepreneurship and self-governance/self-determination to grow further, and develop in a way that can only benefit New Zealand as a whole”.

While there is some improvement, social indicators continue to demonstrate an underdevelopment of Māori potential, with disparities in the numbers on benefit, with those presenting with health conditions or disabilities, and the need for housing and employment. If the welfare system is to deliver greater wellbeing for New Zealand, it needs to be able to deliver for Māori.

This is especially important for young Māori. Māori, along with Pacific People, make up a relatively young and fast-growing share of the New Zealand working-age population. However, they have poor labour market outcomes, in part, because, on average, Māori have lower educational attainment and are over-represented in lower-skilled industries and occupations that are typically more adversely affected in an economic downturn[32]. Growing up in a jobless household is a major contributor to poor outcomes for children. While there have been some improvements, such as an increase in students staying at school until Year 13 and going onto tertiary study, the educational system continues to fail Māori. This happens within a context of New Zealand producing high levels of educational achievement overall.


31 See a summary in Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty (2012b).
32 Māori were among the highest employed population in the 1950s, 1960s and into the 1970s. Māori unemployment increased following significant changes to the labour market in areas such as manufacturing, forestry, railways and the post office.

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