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Ground-breaking research on the lives of NZers

Media Release
For Immediate Release
12 March 2004

Ground-breaking research on the lives of New Zealanders’ continues

The Ministry of Social Development is about to undertake a major survey of the living standards of New Zealanders. 5000 people will be selected, at random, to participate in a survey designed to measure how living standards have changed, and why people experience different standards of living.

The research builds on the world-leading research project Living Standards 2000, which provided a picture of the differing living standards of New Zealanders. The information gained from this survey will help to provide sound evidence upon which the government can base social policy decisions to improve living standards for all New Zealanders.

The latest survey, starting on the 13th of March, updates the research from 2000 and aims to uncover the reasons why people have different living standards.

Over three months 5000 people, chosen at random, will be interviewed on a range of issues including health, accommodation, work, personal support networks, their life history and social circumstances. For those with dependent children in their households, a range of child-specific questions have been devised. These will assess the impact that the economic situation of families has upon our youngest citizens. In addition, participants will have the opportunity to self-rate their own standard of living, and how satisfied they feel about this. The interviews are strictly confidential; the Ministry will have no means of identifying individuals.

The research uses the New Zealand Economic Living Standard Index (ELSI) developed by the Ministry’s Centre for Social Research and Evaluation (CSRE).

ELSI is a world first in gathering information on living standards. It asks people what they actually have, what they can afford to buy, and what things they really do. Knowing all this stuff helps us to understand where we need to focus our efforts to improve living standards for all New Zealanders.

“We used to gather information on the basis of family income and family size. Now we’re able to gather a wider range of information to factor into living standards, and this can be used to tailor future policy,” says Nicholas Pole, General Manager for Centre for Social Research and Evaluation.

“Living Standards 2000 revealed where higher and lower living standards were occurring in New Zealand and in what population groups.”

“Now we need to know why people have different living standards. For example we know that some people earning the same income can have quite different living standards. We’ve now got to find out what factors are influencing this.”

“Living Standards 2000 found that more than a quarter of all families with dependent children were worse off than the population as a whole and, of these children, one in five couldn’t afford to visit the doctor, didn’t have warm clothing or shoes, or shared a bed because of cost.”

“Children with lower living standards were at least twice as likely to miss out on school outings and organised sports, or go without school books and supplies.”

“This kind of information gives us a graphic picture of how people in constrained circumstances are living.”

Mr Pole said the three-month survey was the second stage of ongoing research to occur over many years in the quest to refine information. “In years to come this research will also track changes in the living standards of New Zealanders from the benchmark that we have set in 2000.”

The Ministry encourages people to take part in the research. Those being approached to participate will initially be sent letters inviting them to take part. Interviewers will then contact them to make interview appointments.


A question and answer sheet is attached. Living Standards 2000 is available on www.msd.govt.nz.

Questions and Answers: 2004 Living Standards Survey

Q. What is the survey about?
A. The survey is about the living standards of New Zealanders across the whole of New Zealand. It is aimed at finding out how living standards have changed since 2000, and what differences there are in living standards and why. The survey is of 5000 people, and the current situation of everyone talked to will be added to the research to provide a broad picture of New Zealand living standards.

Q. What information is being collected?
A. We are collecting and compiling information on people’s living standards nationwide. This includes information on issues such as health, accommodation, work, personal support networks, income and social circumstances.

Q. Who is actually doing the survey?
A. The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) have commissioned a research company, TNS, to carry out the survey.

Q. Who is TNS collecting this information from?
A. The survey is nationwide, general and chooses people at random. The researchers are interested in hearing from all sorts of people in all circumstances. Participation is voluntary for those selected to take part in the survey.

Q. Why are TNS collecting this information – what will it be used for?
A. This survey is the second phase of research started in 2000, which resulted in the groundbreaking research Living Standards 2000 (refer below). The aim of the research is to develop an understanding of the factors which influence the different living standards people attain, and how people’s living standards have changed since 2000. The Ministry intends to use the information gathered to contribute to better policies that raise the living standards of all New Zealanders.

Q. Who will see the information – will respondents be identifiable?
A. The answers given to the TNS interviewers will be kept confidential and no one will be able to identify respondents from the research. All information gathered in the study will be grouped with the responses from other people to ensure that individuals are not identified. No organisation, including the Ministry of Social Development, will be given any names, addresses or other information that could identify individuals or households.

Q. How will respondents be approached?
A. If a household is selected for participation, a TNS interviewer will call at the house at least two days after delivering an invitation letter. Interviewers will only call at houses during daylight hours. All TNS interviewers carry an identity card and this will be shown to residents. If it is inconvenient to conduct the interview at this time, an alternative appointment time may be arranged. This time can include weekends. If no one is at home, a card will be left in the mail box with a number which may be called to schedule an interview. Otherwise, the interviewer will call back at the house at a different time. All interviews are scheduled for completion during the period from 20th March to 13th June.

Q. How long will the interview take?
A. The interview lasts about 50 to 60 minutes, depending on how much the respondent has to say.

Q. How will this study build on the Ministry’s previous research on living standards?
A. Living Standards 2000 provided a broad description of the living standards of New Zealanders with a focus on older people, Mâori, Pacific peoples, and families with dependent children. The main findings of that report were that:
- New Zealanders generally have good living standards but, in 2000, nearly 20% of the population were experiencing some degree of hardship, while almost 5% were facing severe hardship
- People in work had better living standards than those on benefits, even when their incomes were about the same
- People on benefits, sole parents, Mâori and Pacific people were more likely to have lower living standards and experience severe hardship
- Children in families with low living standards were likely to lack some basics such as warm clothing, visits to the doctor and dentist, school trips and supplies.
- People in professional occupations and the self-employed, families without children, older New Zealanders, those with no or very low accommodation costs and with financial assets such as savings and investments were more likely to enjoy a ‘good’ living standard.

The research has two aims at this point. Firstly, it will assess how living standards have changed since 2000, and secondly it will move beyond description of living standards to understanding the underlying factors influencing the different living standards people attain. Once again, the New Zealand Economic Living Standard Index (ELSI) will be used to categorise respondents.

Q. What is the New Zealand Economic Living Standard Index (ELSI)?
A. The ELSI scale is the first of its kind in the world and was developed by the Ministry of Social Development’s Centre for Social Research and Evaluation. In 2002 it won the Bearing Point Innovation Award for Central Government. ELSI looks at the extent to which people economise on consumption, do without things and do not engage in social activities because of cost. It also measures whether people are satisfied with their standard of living and the extent to which they feel that their income meets their everyday needs. ELSI ranks people’s living standards on a seven-level scale from ‘very restricted’ to ‘very good’.

It provides a direct measure of the living standards that people actually attain, rather than simply looking at their level of income. The 2000 survey revealed that people on similar incomes experienced different living standards. The present study will not only update the information gathered in 2000, but aims to uncover the reasons why people have different living standards. The technical basis for the scale is provided by a separate 200 page methodology report called Direct Measurement of Living Standards: The New Zealand ELSI Scale.

Q. Where can further information on this project be found?
A. The New Zealand Living Standards 2000 and Direct Measurement of Living Standards: The New Zealand ELSI Scale report are available on the MSD website at http://www.msd.govt.nz/publications/living-standards.html.


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