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Topic 14: Social connection and governance

Maintaining a well-functioning society is important for sustainable development. At an individual level, people’s connections to each other, their sense of belonging, and their ability to contribute to society affects their well-being. Across society, unity and harmony affect the ability to work together to achieve long-term goals and respond to changing conditions. Trust in society can be built up through networks, and threatened by crime, corruption, or discrimination.

Civic participation, interest in national affairs, and people’s sense of connection with wider society indicate the extent to which people feel part of the democratic process and the extent of their trust in government institutions.

Main results

Voluntary contributions by people to society in the form of unpaid work have remained relatively stable.

Between 1987 and 2005, the rate of death by assault decreased. However, fear of crime, to the extent that it affects quality of life, was reported as moderate to high by 40 percent of respondents in a 2006 survey.

In 2007, less than a quarter of people reported distrust with government institutions. Voter turnout in general elections has decreased since 1981 and in local elections since 1989. However, the number of women in Parliament has significantly increased and the proportion elected to local authorities has shown some improvement.

Table 14.1
Social connection and governance indicators – key results

Social governance and governance indicators - key results.

What the indicators tell us

Formal unpaid work outside the home (indicator 14.1)

Across society, there is a diversity of networks connecting people. The proportion of the population involved in voluntary service is one aspect of these networks that indicates the extent to which people are participating in and giving back to society.

Many hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders undertake unpaid work outside the home for relatives, friends, and non-profit institutions. In 2004, it was estimated that there were 97,000 non-profit institutions and that 90 percent did not employ paid staff (Statistics NZ, 2007b). With non-profit institutions in health, sport and recreation, social services, education, culture, emergency response, and conservation, unpaid work for these organisations is a vital part of the New Zealand social fabric.

This indicator measures the extent of formal unpaid work outside the home, being voluntary work for, or through, an organisation, group, or marae.

Figure 14a shows that between 2001 and 2006, the proportion of the population aged 15 years and over who engaged in formal unpaid work decreased from 14.8 percent to 13.8 percent. Figure 14a also includes proportions for those engaged in informal unpaid activities outside the home (see ‘About the indicators’ below).

Unpaid activities outside the home, 2001 and 2006 Census years.

Rate of death from assault (indicator 14.2)

Safety and security affect people’s well-being, their ability and desire to interact with others, and to take part in social and economic life. Death from assault represents the extreme end of violent offences. It can have wide-ranging and negative repercussions on others, not only family and friends, but also the wider public, affecting their participation in and satisfaction with society.

This indicator looks at deaths by homicide, infanticide, or purposely inflicted injury, per 100,000 population.

Figure 14b shows that between 1987 and 2005, after peaking in the early 1990s, yearly rates of death from assaults have fluctuated. Although the overall trend decreased 28.6 percent over the whole period, it has changed little since 2000.

Rate of death by assault, 1987–2005.

Impact of fear of crime on quality of life (indicator 14.3)

Fear of crime affects how safe people feel. It can influence social connection by affecting the way people conduct their lives and undermining their sense of well-being.

The community safety findings from the Ministry of Justice’s 2006 New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey, regarding the impact of crime on people’s lives were:

  • 60 percent felt crime had a minimal impact
  • 33 percent felt crime had a moderate impact
  • 7 percent felt crime had a high impact.

Figure 14c shows the age group that reported the greatest fear of crime was 25–39 years. Eight percent of women reported a high fear of crime compared with 6 percent of men.

Eighteen percent of Asians and 13 percent of Pacific peoples reported a high fear of crime. Twice as many Māori (10 percent) as Europeans (5 percent) reported a high fear of crimes.

However, as the data is only for one year, there is insufficient information to make a trend assessment.

Proportion of people whose fear of crime had a moderate-to-high impact on their quality of life, by sex and age group.

Voter turnout at general and local elections (indicator 14.4)

Voting in the democratic system is the principal way most people express their political opinions and political action. Voting behaviour can therefore measure how engaged people are with the governance process, how effective they think government is, and how representative the democratic process is. It also reflects people’s sense of connection with wider society.

Figure 14d shows that between 1981 and 2008, the lowest voter participation rates were in the three most recent general elections. The highest voter turnout over this period was in 1984 (93.7 percent) and the lowest was in 2002 (77.0 percent).

Figure 14e shows a similar pattern of decreasing voter turnout for selected local authority elections between 1989 and 2007.

Voter turnout at general elections, 1981–2008.

Voter turnout at selected local elections, 1989–2007.

Representation of women in Parliament and local government (indicator 14.5)

Political representation that mirrors the population, for example in terms of gender and ethnicity, is more likely to reflect the issues and interests of various groups within society. It may also enhance fairness. This indicator measures one aspect of political representation – women in Parliament and local government.

Figure 14f shows that between 1981 and 2008, the percentage of the total number of seats in Parliament won by women increased from 8.7 percent to 33.6 percent. The number of women elected increased from 8 to 41.

However, the proportion of total seats won by women for various local authorities has not increased to the same extent. Figure 14g shows that between 1989 and 2007, the percentages of women elected to regional, city, and district councils fluctuated. Nevertheless, for all three types of local government, the percentage of women elected in 2007 was higher than in 1989.

Representation of women in Parliament, 1981–2008.

Representation by women in selected local authorities, 1989–2007.

Trust in government institutions (indicator 14.6)

Trust in government encourages people to engage with government institutions and participate in governance processes (see also indicators 14.4 and 14.5).

People who trust government institutions are more likely to use the services they are entitled to, provide information about themselves for government institutions to deliver effective services, and be more willing to pay taxes, user charges, and license fees.

Results from the Public Satisfaction with Service Quality 2007: Kiwis Count Survey (States Services Commission, 2008) found that:

  • 29 percent of respondents had trust in public services
  • 49 percent were neutral when asked if they had trust in public services
  • less than a quarter expressed distrust towards public services.

The results are summarised in figure 14h. However, as the data is only for one year, there is insufficient information to make a trend assessment.

Trust in public services, September–October 2007.

About the indicators

Data overview – formal partnership between Māori and government

An integral aspect of governance in New Zealand is the partnership between Māori and the New Zealand Government, as recognised by the Treaty of Waitangi. Related to this is the degree of Māori involvement in government decision making. However, it was not possible to include an indicator in this topic as there are no suitable data sources.

Data overview – loneliness and trust in others

It would be useful to have an indicator about people’s perceptions of their isolation or loneliness, or how much they feel others can be trusted. Some information is available from the 2008 Quality of Life Survey. However, because of a low response rate and the lack of a random sample for all demographic groupings and income levels, the survey results cannot be used to provide a national indicator of either loneliness or trust in others.

Results from the General Social Survey (GSS) will report on people’s loneliness, and the first release of results is due in October 2009. This survey will have national coverage and meet the Statistics NZ response rate requirement. It is anticipated that the GSS will report on people’s levels of trust at a future date.

Formal unpaid work outside the home (indicator 14.1)

The information is from the Census of Population and Dwellings for 2001 and 2006. The census questions asked about activities conducted without pay, outside respondents’ households, and for people external to their households, during the last four weeks leading up to the census. The categories were:

  • looking after a child
  • helping someone who was ill or had a disability
  • other helping or voluntary work for or through an organisation, group, or marae.

The first two categories are classified as informal unpaid work. The third is classified as formal unpaid work and is the indicator used for this report.

Rate of death from assault (indicator 14.2)

Deaths from assault include purposely inflicted injury, causing death, inflicted by another person with intent to injure or kill by any means. Manslaughter is included under certain circumstances, however, abortion is not included.

Rates of assault mortality per 100,000 are age-standardised to a standard world population. Comparisons of mortality rates between two countries can be affected by the different age structures of the two populations. The World Health Organization compiles a standard population to reflect the average age structure of the world’s population and this enables international comparisons between countries.

Three-year averages have been graphed to indicate trends in assault death rates. The rate for a specific year is the average for the three years ending with that year; for example, the three-year average for 2005 is the average of the actual rates for 2003–05.

Data is from the Ministry of Health.

Impact of fear of crime on quality of life (indicator 14.3)

The data is from the Crime and Safety Survey 2006, commissioned by the Ministry of Justice (Mayhew & Reilly, 2007). The survey was a nationally representative sample of 4,229 people aged 15 and over. The information is based on the question ‘How much is your own quality of life affected by fear of crime’.

Assessments are on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is no effect and 10 is total effect, the categories being:

  • no or minimal impact (0–3)
  • moderate impact (4–7)
  • high impact (8–10).

Voter turnout at general and local elections (indicator 14.4)

The indicator for voter turnout at general elections is the total of valid votes, informal votes, and disallowed special votes, as a percentage of total enrolled electors.

The indicator for voter turnout at local body elections is the number of residential and ratepayer voters (including those who cast blank, informal, and special votes) as a percentage of the total number of electors on both the residential and ratepayer electoral rolls in areas where an election was necessary.

Data is from Parliamentary Service (2008) and Department of Internal Affairs (2008).

Representation of women in Parliament and local government (indicator 14.5)

Information on women elected to Parliament was sourced from Parliamentary Service (2008). For women elected to local authorities, the data source was the Department of Internal Affairs (2008).

Trust in government institutions (indicator 14.6)

The Public Satisfaction with Service Quality 2007: The Kiwis Count Survey was commissioned in 2007 by the State Services Commission (2008), as a voluntary postal survey. The survey referred to a list of 42 broadly representative services provided by central and local government, tertiary education institutions, and kindergartens. A 61 percent response rate was achieved, resulting in around 4,000 responses.

Table 14.2
Social connection and governance indicators – defining principles

Social governance and governance indicators - defining principles.

See part C for the complete list of defining principles for all indicators.

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