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Whānau Experiences of Poverty May Not All Be The Same

posted 13 Dec 2012, 22:39 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 18 Feb 2016, 23:26 ]

I've been thinking about Mason Durie's (1995) saying from some years ago about the 'diverse realities' of Māori. Do whānau (Māori families) as a unit, also have diverse realities? And, in particular, do they have diverse experiences of poverty?

Research has been carried out by Demos and Natcen on poor families with children in the United Kingdom. The aim of the research (which also included childless working age adults and pensioners) was to "improve our understanding of the different ways that people experience poverty." (Read their report here.) 

The analysis of family information collected on 20 indicators (health, education, etc.) enabled the researchers to group families according to five child poverty types: graftersfullhouse familiespressured parentsvulnerable mothers, and managing mothers. Nearly one third of the families were classified as grafters; that is, families with low incomes but otherwise doing okay. Just over 20 percent (or one in five) of the families were classified as 'full house families'; that is, multiple adults and children living in crowded conditions. Another 21 percent of families, 'pressured parents',  lived extremely deprived lifestyles. Vulnerable mothers (18%) were generally under 24 years old and living with babies or children and were the most deprived families. Managing mothers (8%) were the smallest family type and were described as 'generally getting by'.

What might a similar analysis mean for whānau? What sort of categories might we find - not just for whānau experiencing poverty but for whānau more generally? Do we have enough information about whānau in order to begin answering these types of questions? And, especially, do we have information on indicators that capture the full range of what it means to be whānau? In other words, should we be interested in Māori-centric indicators as well as those that tell us about disparities in Māori citizenship rights (like access to education and health services)?

Even if we have the indicators sorted out and the data collected we need to ask why we would want to do this sort of analysis. The authors of the UK report describe how they wanted to dispel the myth that all families (in poverty) are the same. In doing so, they highlighted that there is not a 'one-size-fits-all' solution to helping families and children in poverty. Taking their lead, this type of analysis may enable a more tailored approach for whānau who engage with Whānau Ora (Māori family wellbeing) providers. As a country we also have our own myths about whānau that might be negated by such an analysis. So it's definitely worth our consideration.


Durie, M.H. (1995). Ngā Matatini Mori : Diverse Mori Realities. Paper prepared for the Ministry of Health.