A new report on wellbeing in Waikato paints a picture of a region that lags behind the national figures on a range of measures with the notable exception of housing.
The analysis, by economics firm Infometrics, also examines the differences within the region at a district-by-district level.
The figures were presented at a meeting organised by business-facing group CONNECT Waikato in June, with Infometrics’ senior economist Brad Olsen saying they represent part of a standardised set of wellbeing indicators across the country.
“This wellbeing conversation is a much bigger one that needs to go on so we are launching a public report,” he said.
His presentation at the Avantidrome added detail to Infometrics’ regional wellbeing report.
He said while GDP is a “great” measure of all the value added in a year, it is often misused as a measure of progress or people’s success.
“That’s not what GDP was ever designed for and it’s not what it’s supposed to measure, so we need to get beyond that GDP element.
“Progress means different things to different people. It might be that the economy has been humming, and we know that it has, but if we still have people living on the streets, if we have our friends and whānau who don’t have the money to come out and enjoy their life, is that progress? Yes we have economic growth but is that progress as people generally think about progress?”
Olsen said it was also important to think long term, including looking after the environment.
Infometrics has come up with 30 indicators across nine domains, with the intention of being both objective and manageable.
“It’s enough so you get a picture, not so much that you are overwhelmed. We have made sure it is outcomes focused as much as possible.
“We’ve also taken it down to a much more granular level than anyone ever has before. We look at this by local council area, so we’ve split up the country into 66 areas.”
That meant like could be compared with like, rather than every council having its own set of indicators.
Grouped under the broader titles of foundations, work and community (which relate to live, work and play), the nine domains are:
• Environment, housing, health.
• Jobs and earnings, knowledge and skills, income and consumption.
• Civic engagement and governance, safety, social connection.
Each of those is further broken down. Environment, for instance, is measured by estimated carbon emissions per capita and waste diversion rate, while knowledge and skills is made up of early childhood education participation, school leavers with NCEA level 2, secondary-tertiary transitions and workforce with NCEA level 3.
In general, the data showed provincial New Zealand lagging behind urban areas. A greater mix of skilled employment opportunities, office-based work, and higher pay available in urban areas explain part of the urban-rural divide, according to Infometrics. Urban areas are also safer places to live, including a lower crime rate.
Waikato has a middling performance across the domains when compared with the rest of the country. Under knowledge and skills it is 10th out of 16 regions, and it is fifth for environment. It is 12th in housing, though that puts it ahead of the national average and of Auckland, which is 16th.
Given Auckland’s dominance at regional level, those statistics probably have less value to civic leaders, planners and business than the breakdown by district.
At that level, the southern areas of Waikato generally lag. That shows up when it comes to crime rate and suicide rate, for both of which measures South Waikato was above others measured in the presentation – though its crime rate has been dropping over the past couple of years.
Waitomo fared worst for household crowding, with South Waikato second worst along with Hamilton.
When it comes to skilled workers, Hamilton has the strongest showing, with Otorohanga occupying the bottom spot below Matamata-Piako. Otorohanga also has the highest truancy rate, closely followed by Waitomo.
The picture changes with household income, where Thames-Coromandel and Hauraki lag, while Waikato and Waipā head the field.
All districts have been tracking up in terms of school leavers with NCEA level 2 or above. A more negative note is struck by local election turnouts, which have been in steady decline since the early ‘90s.
Olsen said the point of the research was to provide data around indicators that could be influenced by future decisions. The report was just a starting point, in the hope it would provide a foundation for discussion around where areas want to be and how they can get there.
“If you’ve only got a limited amount of money to spend and a limited amount of resources and time we need to prioritise what we do. So we need to have an idea of what the local area looks like before we can get it to where we want it to be. What we are expecting this to do is help inform those decision makers, give everyone the information they need to make those decisions.”
• Infometrics’ wellbeing report can be found at http://www.infometrics.co.nz/infometrics-regional-wellbeing-report/