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Hodgson: Launch of Decades of Disparity III

Hon Pete Hodgson
Minister of Health

8 May 2006 Speech
Speech for the launch of Decades of Disparity III

Ethnic and socio-economic inequalities in mortality, New Zealand 1981 – 1999

Good evening everyone and thank you for joining us tonight at the launch of this monitoring report, Decades of Disparity III: ethnic and socio-economic inequalities in mortality, New Zealand 1981 – 1999.

Thank you to Barry Borman of Public Health Intelligence for inviting me to reflect on this report and also staff of the Maori Health Directorate who have coordinated this event.

In New Zealand inequalities are not random: in all countries, socially disadvantaged and marginalised groups have poorer health, greater exposure to health hazards, and less access to high quality health care than the more privileged.

In addition, indigenous peoples tend to have poorer health. Only a fortnight ago an alarming series of studies highlighted the inequalities evident amongst Maori in heart disease; child injury; and lung diseases. The elimination of inequalities will always be a central concern to this Labour-led Government.

To know whether we are achieving our goal of reducing inequalities in health – as in other arenas of social policy – rigorous monitoring is required.

At the heart of this monitoring is the New Zealand Health Monitor, a systematic programme of population-based surveys and cohort studies operated by Public Health Intelligence.

The report being launched today is an important output of the Monitor.

The Decades of Disparity series is produced by anonymously linking census to mortality records. This has created a series of cohort studies in which the entire population is enrolled, and has allowed more use to be made of the rich data collected in the census.

We owe a vote of thanks to all New Zealanders who willingly complete their census forms, as well as Statistics New Zealand, Public Health Intelligence and the Wellington School of Medicine.

This report is the final in a series of three on health inequality in New Zealand over the 1980s and 1990s – a period of great social change in our country.

The first report, published in 2004, examined ethnic inequalities in mortality and demonstrated an increase in the life expectancy disparity between Maori and non-Maori from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s.

More recent evidence suggests that this trend may have reversed and disparity may now be narrowing again. In the mid 1990s, the disparity was estimated to be over 9 years – by the early 2000s, there was an indication that it was reversing.

The second report, published last year, examined socio-economic inequalities in mortality, with a particular focus on income. After adjusting for ethnicity, all income groups experienced declines in mortality throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Today's report examines the complex interaction between ethnicity and socio-economic position in shaping the survival chances of New Zealanders.

Key findings are:

- Socioeconomic gradients in mortality exist within both Maori and non-Maori ethnic groups

- The different socioeconomic positions of Maori and non-Maori ethnic groups account for at least half of the disparities in mortality between them

- Widening inequalities in socioeconomic resources (especially position in the labour market) between Maori and non-Maori during the 1980s and 1990s explain approximately half of the widening in the mortality disparity, for people of working age.

Socio-economic inequalities explain much of ethnic inequalities in health but do not account for all the disparity.

We know that both ethnicity and socio-economic position are important for health. If we are serous about reducing ethnic inequalities in health, our policies need to address both.

In short the reports provide valuable evidence in support of this government’s reducing inequalities commitment.

Reducing inequalities will see people live healthier, longer lives – and a healthier population is a necessary precursor to our future wellbeing and prosperity as families and as a country.

The Ministry of Health in collaboration with its academic partners will continue to monitor our progress towards this critical goal.

Once again I thank you all for joining me to launch this report.
Kia ora tatou.

ENDS

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