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We must not leave our elders behind - chief among them Wahine Maori

"In all reality we have an opportunity to not just address the issues of the past but build for the future. As we do we cannot and must no forget our elders and our whanau in their middle years - if we do we risk continuing the disparities" Matthew Tukaki, Chair of the National Maori Authority

One of the most forgotten groups in New Zealander are our elders – to be honest there is just no way of better putting it and when it comes to Maori, they are more likely to be vulnerable economically and socially. In 2018 I released the results of a survey called “What keeps Māori awake at night?”. Financial security loomed large in the survey results and over the last 18 months I have been unpacking the results and discovered that Māori women are more at risk of becoming homeless, less likely to be able to have financial security and stability in retirement and more likely to head into retirement in debt. But it gets worse than that – because its not just Wahine Maori, it’s also our Tane. If you take a look at home ownership rates they have remained stubbornly low for Māori in their mid to latter years and with affordable housing becoming an all too present challenge the fact is many of our younger people are also not going to be able to afford their first home.

For those who can get onto the property ladder the risk is heading into retirement still laden with debt plus a mortgage. Across the spectrum we also know that the cost of living continues to rise and that while there have been improvements in unemployment rates for Māori the reality is we are still very much in the low wage growth side of the economy.

And then there are the myriad of health challenges – all of which we know about given Māori health disparities continue to outstrip those of non-Maori. One challenge some families face is the rising tide of dementia and Alzheimer’s amongst our people and the complexity of care required. No one necessarily plans for a time when they need to care for parents or loved ones. In each case we have our elders with a lack of financial security in retirement and also our younger generations who are also picking up some of those costs and therefore no always able to save for their own financial future.

Another challenge we have is that many Wahine Māori will not have the same retirement savings as either their husbands and partners nor non-Maori. In fact this is a challenge for women more generally because they have spent longer outside of the workforce not earning because of raising families and so on.

In addition to all of these things Māori women, in particular sole parents, are more likely to be earning less than most other New Zealanders which presents yet another challenge around financial security over all. In fact, Māori women appear to be more likely heading into retirement with debt.

Finally, we have the situation where we have a higher divorce and separation rate. The harsh truth is that many women in their later years will come out of a marriage less likely to be able to afford a new home and, in some cases, less likely to be able to afford market rent. In other words we have a growing number of Māori women at risk of homelessness.

Traditionally we have tried to confront the challenges of one or other groups of people – young people or our elders. But in all reality those policies in isolation and alone don’t work and haven’t worked. That’s because the world of work is a cycle that no longer just includes a job for life – in actual fact the labour market has changed so much we have to be blunt and understand that often we will have second, a third or even a fourth career.

For Māori past the age of fifty we need to focus on employment opportunities that will see them in highly paid and wage growth jobs right through to retirement. This means taking advantage of the already built up lived and life experience when it comes to the in-demand job areas of mental health, community and social development. This is why standing up investment in Māori health and social services is so important – investing more enables us to build a workforce that so obviously meets demand – but our own for Maori-by-Māori program.

To do this we also need to address the significant pay inequity and to be even more blunt if something costs a dollar to procure it does not cost ten cents – it costs a dollar. This too will require a shift in our thinking when it comes to accreditation and qualifications – we don’t need to stand-up four-year degrees necessarily, but we can harness our technical and vocational sector to be more inclusive of pre-learning using life, lived experience and Matauranga Maori. Its also why the greater investment in Māori housing by the Government is crucial – but lets also see it in the context of kaumatua housing and what does it mean for Māori to be housed into retirement?

And if we were to be really bold about it – we had have a look at the retirement for Maori being lower in terms of accessing financial support because to be honest – our life expectancy is up to seven years lower than non-Maori. Many of our people don’t even live into retirement let alone get there health and financially stable.

In the mid-range of our years (middle age) we need to consider a few things:

1. Increase the level of retirement savings

2. Increase the opportunity to move into higher wage growth areas

3. Run programs that significantly reduce debt and financial exposure

4. Set a target to improve the overall wealth of Māori as opposed to running the risk of focussing on what can only be described as the top 5-10% who enjoy all the wealth

The reason these four pillars of policy are so important is we need to ensure that we do as much as possible to generate financial security and well-being in these years as we can to prevent the pain of financial in-security at retirement.

That brings me to our young people. They hold a hope for all of us and what we need to do is empower them to be all they can be for as often as we can. But we also need to reimagine what opportunities might lay ahead. My philosophy of bringing back the Maori Affairs Trade Trainee program is not just because it worked before but reimagined with a combination of traditional and future trades we can create an operating environment through which our young people can be successful. An army of coders, software developers, IT technicians and more -alongside traditional trades. Investing in more in their aspirations through entrepreneurship and reminding ourselves that every young person must always be given as many opportunities we can give them to reach their full potential.

In other words we have a lot of work to do across the age spectrums in Te Ao Maori.


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