6.Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Nga tika ōhanga, nohonga tangata, tikanga tangata

In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights
The individual, having duties to other individuals and to the community to which he belongs, is under a responsibility to strive for the promotion and observance of the rights recognized in the present Covenant
Preamble, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

6.1 Introduction /


States have a duty to realise the economic, social and cultural rights embodied in the international agreements they have ratified. These rights are to be progressively achieved, not simply aspired to.

Human Rights in New Zealand Today / Ngā Tika Tangata O Te Motu and many other recent studies provide compelling evidence of the persistent inequalities in people's experience of economic, social and cultural rights. They also highlight the extent to which realisation of one right is dependent on the realisation of others. For example, attainment of the highest standard of health is related to educational achievement, healthy housing, and income sufficient for an adequate standard of living, which in turn requires access to decent work.

Although economic, social and cultural rights are addressed in many government strategies, policies and programmes, they do not generally have the same level of legislative protection as civil and political rights.


This section focuses on poverty reduction, housing, health, employment and adult literacy. Education is specifically addressed more in the sections on children, disabled people and race relations, and migrant workers’ rights are addressed in the section on race relations.

6.2 Poverty reduction /
Te whakaiti i ngā tikanga rawakore

Outcome: Poverty is reduced in New Zealand.

A pervasive theme in Human Rights in New Zealand Today / Ngā Tika Tangata O Te Motu is the extent to which poverty undermines the realisation of the most basic human rights, in particular health and education. The Government’s Budget 2004 focused on the reduction of child poverty and ensuring that people are better off from working through the Working for Families package. Housing, education and work are all crucial to poverty reduction, and priorities for action in each of these areas are included in this Action Plan.

A key step towards greater accountability for poverty reduction would be the development of an official poverty measure, as recommended by the Public Health Advisory Committee. More generally, international recognition of the importance and benefits of integrating human rights into all poverty reduction strategies has resulted in the development of United Nations guidelines. A human rights approach would complement and enhance the current approach to poverty in government policy and programme development.

Priorities for action:

6.3 Housing /
Tikanga whare

Outcome: Housing is accessible and affordable for all.

Human Rights in New Zealand Today / Ngā Tika Tangata O Te Motu identified affordability and accessibility as barriers to the full realisation of the right to housing. The proposed New Zealand Housing Strategy could make positive contributions towards this outcome.

In particular, the status report identified disadvantaged groups with particular housing needs that are not being met. The proposed New Zealand Housing Strategy has identified and recognised the need to address the diverse housing needs of different population groups.

The status report also found that homelessness exists in New Zealand , and that strategies to address homelessness are required. Some territorial authorities, including the Wellington City Council, have already begun work on such strategies. It is important that these strategies are developed to be consistent with the relevant human rights standards.

Priorities for action:

Outcome: Urgent habitability problems are addressed by ensuring a strong regulatory framework to provide for quality standard dwellings.

Human Rights in New Zealand Today / Ngā Tika Tangata O Te Motu identified weaknesses in the regulatory framework that have a negative impact on housing rights, particularly those of homeowners. The status report also identified specific habitability issues that require urgent action, because they impact adversely on the right to housing as well as on the right to health. The proposed New Zealand Housing Strategy has identified both strengthening the regulatory framework and improving housing quality as areas for action.

Priorities for action:

6.4 Health /
Tikanga Hauora

Human Rights in New Zealand Today / Ngā Tika Tangata O Te Motu concluded that achieving the highest attainable standard of health for all people in New Zealand depends first and foremost on environmental factors (clean air, clean water and waste disposal) and on socio-economic determinants, as well as access to appropriate health services, especially primary care. A human rights-based approach to health emphasises equality and non-discrimination in accessibility of health services, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of the population. Some groups for whom there are serious barriers to health services, and for whom health outcomes are significantly poorer than for the rest of the population, were also identified.

Outcome: Adverse environmental impacts on health are addressed.

In a report to the Minister of Health in 2002, the Public Health Advisory Committee identified obstacles to addressing environmental impacts on health effectively. The Government has since launched a programme of Action for Sustainable Development, addressing water quality and allocation, energy, sustainable cities and child and youth development as priorities. This initiative needs to be strengthened and extended to address other environmental issues. The recent first report of the National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee showed that occupational diseases are killing and harming more New Zealanders each year than occupational injuries are.

Priorities for action:

Outcome: The socio-economic determinants of health are addressed.

Human Rights in New Zealand Today / Ngā Tika Tangata O Te Motu drew attention to international evidence that housing, education and employment are major contributors to people’s health status. In order to improve health outcomes for all, a major improvement in the equity of outcomes in those areas is required.

(Priorities for action related to employment, housing and education are set out in other sections of this plan.)

The New Zealand Health Strategy points out that “The health sector can encourage and support action in other sectors, including identifying and advising on the health impact of policies and trends occurring there” (NZHS 2000:5). Since the greatest disparities in health disproportionately affect Māori and Pacific peoples, it is also important to address those factors where the evidence indicates that improvements are likely to have the most impact on health outcomes for these populations.

Priorities for action:

Outcome: The Primary Health Care Strategy is strengthened in order to ensure that quality primary health services are available, accessible and appropriate for all on a non-discriminatory basis, especially for vulnerable or marginalised groups.

While “the highest attainable standard of health” takes into account the individual’s biological preconditions, social and economic circumstances and the State’s resource constraints, it also clearly implies that governments must take steps to progressively improve availability, accessibility and quality of primary care, including equal access to timely, quality health care. The priorities recommended address the need to continuously improve primary care services, especially for the most disadvantaged and marginalised population groups.

Priorities for action:

Outcome: Develop a human rights approach to address barriers in access to health care for all New Zealanders.

Human Rights in New Zealand Today / Ngā Tika Tangata O Te Motu identified that many New Zealanders have concerns about access to healthcare in times of need. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ General Comment on the right to health (E/C. 12/2000/4) defines access as including not only physical accessibility and affordability, but also non-discrimination, and the right to appropriate information about health. There is evidence that some New Zealanders, particularly Maori, Pacific, refugees and disabled people, transgender and intersex people, encounter various barriers to timely, appropriate health services, both for prevention and for treatment.

Priorities for action:

6.5 Education/
Tikanga Mātauranga

Outcome: All adult New Zealanders are literate.[3]

Lack of literacy prevents an individual's full participation in society. Literate adults are more able to support their children's education, undertake tertiary study and enhance their employment prospects. The 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) found that one in five New Zealanders had poor literacy skills. It confirmed that while age, ethnicity and gender were linked with literacy levels, literacy and income levels were also significantly correlated. Access to basic education for those adults who may not have successfully completed school is a core element of the right to education.

Literacy services are offered in New Zealand by government, non-government agencies and civil society. In response to the IALS, the Government established an Adult Literacy Strategy which, through the Tertiary Education Commission, aims to support literacy provision through workplaces, community-based education providers and tertiary institutions. Although organisations such as Literacy Aotearoa, Workbase Literacy and Koia Koia: Adult and Community Education provide extensive programmes, free literacy education is still not available to all adults.


Priority for action:

6.6 Employment /
Tikanga Mahi

Outcome: All men and women have the opportunity to obtain decent and productive work in workplaces where the human rights of all are recognised and respected.

Human Rights in New Zealand Today / Ngā Tika Tangata O Te Motu reported ongoing structural disadvantages in the New Zealand labour market. In particular, it noted higher unemployment rates for Māori and Pacific peoples, difficulties faced by migrants in accessing appropriate employment, prejudice affecting the employment and retention of older workers, difficulties faced by men and women returning to the workforce after family responsibilities, stigma and discrimination against disabled people, and difficulties faced by young people entering the labour market.

The status report also found that the status of unpaid workers is not well recognised, that the rights of low paid workers and young people are not well protected, and that women earn 87.1% of men’s average hourly earnings across the labour market, falling to only 64% in the health sector.

New Zealand has not ratified two of the eight core international labour conventions and does not fully comply with a number of those it has ratified.

Priorities for action:

Outcome: The capacity and capability of the home care and personal support workforce is increased.

The terms “home care” and “personal support” are used to describe a wide range of work which enables various groups of people, such as disabled and older people, to live as independently as possible. Human Rights in New Zealand Today / Ngā Tika Tangata O Te Motu identified a number of human rights issues both for people who rely on home care and personal support workers, and for those workers themselves. The priorities for action below focus on better outcomes for this workforce, which should in turn contribute to better human rights outcomes for those who rely on them, by providing greater autonomy and more choice about forms of support and place of residence. The Ministry of Health-led Quality and Safety Project, completed in December 2004, identified these as priorities for home care and personal support workers.

Priorities for action:

3.In this context, literacy includes listening, speaking, reading, writing, numeracy, information technology skills and critical thinking. It is fundamentally connected with knowledge of social and cultural practices. [Return to chapter]