A Fair Chance for All: Breaking the cycle of persistent disadvantage

A Fair Chance for All: Breaking the cycle of persi…
01 Jun 2023
A quantitative analysis of disadvantage and how it…
01 Jul 2023
A fair Chance for All: Breaking the cycle of persi…
01 Sep 2022
Overview: A Fair Chance for All
01 Jun 2023
A Fair Chance for All: Your feedback
01 Feb 2023
Wānanga Feedback Report
15 Nov 2022
Summary of Talanoa session
05 Oct 2022
A Fair Chance for All:Consultation on terms of ref…
27 Sep 2021


  • Generate new insights about the dynamics and drivers of persistent disadvantage, and the incidence/impacts across different population groups, including social and economic factors;
  • Develop recommendations for actions and system changes to break or mitigate the cycle of disadvantage (both within a person’s lifetime and intergenerationally); and
  • Help raise public awareness and understanding of trends in economic inclusion and social mobility (with a focus on persistent disadvantage) in New Zealand.


  • Due to the lack of longitudinal data, we used a novel approach and constructed a dataset to measure persistent disadvantage. The datasets we used for this included the 2013 and 2018 Censuses and 2016–2021 Household Economic Survey data.
  • We estimated the number of people experiencing being persistently deprived or excluded in 2013 and 2018. We were able to measure being persistently income poor in 2013 and 2018, and at one additional point in time between 2016–2021.
  • We focused on people living in “peak working-age households” (with at least one adult aged 25–64) – referred to as “working-age households” throughout the report, and considered children as part of the household, rather than reporting on them separately. We assessed younger (aged 18–24) and older (aged 65+) households separately, because their experiences of disadvantage and persistent disadvantage were quite different to those of working-age households.
  • We were limited to seven measures available in the Census data for assessing persistent disadvantage. As a result, we could not include some population groups or factors contributing to persistent disadvantage in our analysis.

Our approach emphasised research evidence and broad engagement. In developing our findings and recommendations, the Commission has drawn on evidence from many sources including:

  • conducting more than 140 meetings or other engagements with individuals and organisations;
  • hearing from over 1,000 people on the terms of reference and interim report;
  • reviewing government agency reports and data, relevant academic and other research, and previous inquiries into, and reviews of, social services;
  • engagement with 32 government organisations, including through a series of six policy workshops;
  • commissioning nine research reports and reviews (Table 1); and
  • referring to the Commission’s More Effective Social Services (2015a) inquiry report.

We also undertook significant quantitative research as part of this inquiry. Our companion report, A quantitative analysis of disadvantage and how it persists in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZPC, forthcoming), uses existing data to quantify and explore factors contributing to persistent disadvantage and how it impacts on wellbeing.

Key Results

Barriers and protective factors exist

A central finding of this inquiry is that people experiencing disadvantage and those trying to support them are constrained by powerful system barriers. Siloed and fragmented government and short-termism reflect well-known challenges that the public management system has been grappling with for decades. Outside the public management system, power imbalances, discrimination, and the ongoing impact of colonisation form part of the economic and social context and create the main drivers for both advantage and disadvantage in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Factors that protect against disadvantage include adequate income, housing, health, and social connection; cultural identity and belonging; knowledge and skills; access to employment; stable families; and effective government policies and supports.

For many people, disadvantage does not persist. People can get themselves through a temporary period of disadvantage by drawing on their own resources, accessing support from family and friends and the local community, and from the Government.

In the absence of effective support, temporary disadvantage can persist and compound, trapping people within multiple complex disadvantages.

Wellbeing, assumptions and voice of future generations

Although advances in wellbeing approaches are a good start, many of the key assumptions underlying Aotearoa New Zealand’s policy and public management system settings are hampering the implementation of a fully integrated wellbeing approach. The current wellbeing approach leans heavily on measurement and lacks integration into the public management system. Aotearoa New Zealand has been at the forefront of international wellbeing approaches, but other countries are now operationalising wellbeing better.

Accountability and learning systems

Current accountability settings constrain more innovative and effective ways of addressing persistent disadvantage. We identify three critical gaps in the accountability system:

  • weak direct accountabilities for ministers and the public service in addressing persistent disadvantage and the needs of future generations;
  • the neglect of te Tiriti o Waitangi (te Tiriti) as a foundational constitutional document; and
  • settings that constrain ongoing learning and more innovative and effective ways of addressing persistent disadvantage, including relational, collective and trust-based approaches.

Evidence shows locally led, whānau-centred and centrally enabled approaches can provide more effective assistance to people and families experiencing persistent disadvantage. However, these approaches are typically short term and under-resourced, and those that exist often struggle to meet the level of need and aspiration within communities.

Page last modified: 22 Mar 2024