The traditional New Zealand welfare state has undergone major changes in recent decades. In the early 1990s, grants and allowances were lowered and citizens were expected to take greater responsibility for their social security. The Labor government strengthened social benefits in part in the early 1990s. At the end of the 2010s, the Labor-led coalition government continued on the same track.
Society is unequal. Maoris and immigrants from island states in the Pacific are over-represented in unemployment, poverty, alcohol abuse, violence against women and other crimes. The problems are greatest in the suburbs of big cities. The life expectancy of the Maoris is ten years lower than that of the rest of the population. But there are also poor New Zealanders of European descent. In 2017, 300,000 children in the country – about every third child – were estimated to live below the UN Children’s Fund Unicef’s poverty line in New Zealand, that is, households that earned less than 60 percent of median income for New Zealanders at $ 550 a week. There were twice as many children as in 1984. At the end of 2018, a new law on combating child poverty was passed with almost unanimous support in Parliament.
- Countryaah Official Site: Official statistics for population in New Zealand, including population growth, density, and estimation in next 50 years.
New Zealand’s welfare system has its roots in the 19th century. The country introduced old-age pension as early as 1898, then from the age of 65 and tested for needs. Four decades later, the retirement age was reduced to 60 years for worn-out and poor bodyworkers, while general public pensions were paid at 65 years. Today there is no fixed retirement age, but compensation starts to be paid at the age of 65.
In 2001, a special investment fund was formed to help finance future pensions for the growing number of elderly people in the population. By the end of the 2020s, about one fifth of the population is expected to be older than 65 and by 2050 the proportion is predicted to have grown to one quarter. During the period 2009 to 2017, the right-wing governments canceled payments to the fund. However, these were resumed by the Labor-led coalition government in 2018.
Health care is mainly tax-financed, but nearly a quarter is covered by private insurance. Needs testing was introduced in the 1990s for unemployment benefits and sickness benefits. Parental benefit was introduced in 2002. It is now paid for only 18 weeks, but parents are entitled to longer leave that is unpaid.
Maori’s protests and demands have led to increased investment in education and work opportunities for ethnic minorities. However, immigrants from Pacific nations often live segregated in poor conditions, and the major cities have been aware of ethnic conflicts. Chinese and Indian immigration have also been accompanied by some ethnic tensions. There have also been gang conflicts between Maoris and white motorcycle gangs with racist signs.
The law prohibits gender discrimination, and the position of women has gradually improved, although society is still male-dominated. Women have lower wages, but many women have reached leading positions. For a period (2005–2006), the head of state, the head of government, the Governor-General, the President of Parliament and the President of the Supreme Court were all women. In the fall of 2017, the country got its third female prime minister with Jacinda Ardern. After the election, as many as 46 percent of MPs were women, the highest proportion so far.
Divorce is allowed only when it can be shown that marriage has broken down and reunification is not possible. Therefore, in order to apply for divorce, spouses must have lived separately for two years. During that time, you can live together for three-month periods or shorter, if you try to save the relationship.
Parliament changed the country’s strict abortion legislation in spring 2020, which was over 40 years old. According to it, abortion was permitted only if the woman’s life or health was in danger, or if the fetus was damaged and abortions had to be approved by two doctors. The new law means that abortion is no longer criminal. Until week 20, it is up to the woman herself and her doctor to decide on abortion. Thereafter, an investigation needs to be conducted.
A law that opened for same-sex marriage came into force in 2013. A partnership law in 2004 gave gay and heterosexual couples the same rights with regard to child custody, tax rules and social welfare.
Prostitution was legalized in 2003. The law requires licenses for brothels that must give their employees the same rights as other occupational groups when it comes to health care, safety and working conditions. Exploitation of women from Asian countries occurs. New Zealanders who commit sexual abuse against children abroad can be prosecuted in their home country.
FACTS – SOCIAL CONDITIONS
Infant Mortality: 5 per 1000 births (2018)
Percentage of HIV infected: 0.1 percent (2018)
Proportion of HIV infected among young women
0.1 percent (2018)
Proportion of HIV infected among young men: 0.1 percent (2018)
Proportion of population with access to clean water: 100.0 percent (2015)
Proportion of the population having access to toilets: 100.0 percent (2017)
Public expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP: 9.3 percent (2015)
Public expenditure on health care per person: US $ 3,745 (2016)
Proportion of women in parliament: 38 percent (2018)