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Census undercount of Pacific families a serious concern

Media Statement - 14 August 2019

(No embargo)

Census undercount of Pacific families a serious concern, say Pacific experts

Pacific experts warn of the dangers of utilising census data that inadequately represents Pacific communities.

An independent investigation into the Statistics New Zealand 2018 Census identified issues with the execution of the digital, cost-savings census approach which led to the significant under-representation of population groups such as Maori and Pacific.

Dr El-Shadan Tautolo, Director of the Pacific Islands Families Study highlights the consequences of a low response rate for Pacific peoples.

“Replicating the approaches utilised in the last census will continue to widen the gaps in our understanding of what’s happening in our Pacific families and communities. This in turn is likely to widen the gaps in outcomes that we see in our health, education and social sector for our Pacific peoples.”

Tautolo points to the importance of longitudinal studies such as the Pacific Islands Families and the Growing Up in New Zealand Studies to address these gaps, but in terms of the next Census collection, further improvements are vital.

Jacinta Fa’alili-Fidow, Pacific Advisor for the Growing Up in New Zealand Study and Co-Director of Moana Research believes the data will have negative implications for Pacific communities and families.

“The census will be of no use in terms of informing policy and practice for Pacific” says Fa’alili-Fidow. “In an attempt to cut corners the census is now redundant, reinforcing the need to adequately invest in quality data collection to engage all people.”

Fa’alili-Fidow says that it is important that the next census improve participation of Pacific peoples especially in light of the evolving demographic of Pacific families. A response rate of 65% for Pacific people in the 2018 is not good enough. This figure also fails to recognise the importance of accurate and appropriate data for Pacific sub-populations, such as those of Island or Atoll groups. There is a lack of information from Statistics New Zealand about when or even if this important data will be available, let alone any quality assurance. Waiting for accurate data from the next census will also have its challenges since there is such a large gap between data collection points, and the context of life, or even how we identify, changes over time.

While digital goals are acceptable for many families, Pacific experts promote a dual-approach that includes traditional paper/face-to-face approaches for those who are unable to complete online surveys for various reasons. Other recommendations include the involvement of Pacific expertise in the governance, design, delivery and monitoring of the Census processes and greater involvement with Pacific networks.

Finally, we have significant concerns regarding the data that is being used, and the processes underway in order to fill the gaps in the Census 2018 collection.

Professor Polly Atatoa-Carr who works in indigenous research and health equity at the University of Waikato says “Pacific people are commonly subjected to data surveillance and risk profiling, and information that is collected in the administrative datasets being used is there for a very different purpose and under very different circumstances to a population census. With such high proportions of Pacific people’s information ‘backfilled’ using government data there is a critical and urgent need for Pacific leadership, decision making and guidance around the ethical processes and communication required to move forward.”

ENDS


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