In-work poverty is a significant human rights issue

A household’s wellbeing, specifically economic and material wellbeing, is at the crux of ensuring that its members’ human rights are protected. Economic wellbeing typically has its foundation in meaningful employment. 

Having decent work is a human right, and it affects many other human rights such as health, housing, education, food, and safety. Some New Zealand households have one or more working members, yet still are living in poverty, called ‘in-work poverty’. They are struggling with these human rights challenges every day.

Research by the Human Rights Commission and the New Zealand Work Research Institute found that more than 50,000 working households live in poverty across Aotearoa. The overall in-work poverty rate was 7 percent before considering rent or mortgage payments. Once housing costs are factored in, the in-work poverty rate increases substantially. 

The Commission wanted to produce evidence around the prevalence of in-work poverty and the characteristics of in-work poor households, which could help inform the systemic changes needed to reduce poverty rates. The extent of in-work poverty had not been comprehensively assessed in New Zealand before.

According to our research, Māori, Pacific peoples, ethnic minorities, disabled people, women, households with low educational attainment and renters are most vulnerable. The in-work poverty rate can double for specific population groups like single-parent households (which are mostly women). Without Government support through the Working for Families benefit or the Accommodation Supplement, many families unsurprisingly are worse off.  

New Zealand is obligated under the UN Sustainable Development Goals to reduce poverty in half by 2030. Solving poverty is a shared responsibility that doesn’t solely sit with the Government and the corporate sector but requires collective mobilisation, tangible and effective change.

The Commission hopes the findings of our report will assist public policymakers to improve their understanding of those households who, although in employment, are still struggling. We also hope that this increased understanding of this group can inform the development of policies to improve the wellbeing of those that are working but remain in poverty.

You can find a copy of the in-work poverty research report here.


Human rights can reduce working poverty post COVID-19

In October 2020, the Human Rights Commission produced a report called  Human Rights Responses to Poverty in Working Households” which builds on research conducted by the Auckland University of Technology's New Zealand Work and Research Institute which found "more than 50,000 working households live in poverty” before COVID-19. 

Our human rights analysis report stresses the economic impacts of the pandemic have further pushed working families into poverty. Especially when you considered the most vulnerable – single parents, children, Māori and Pacific peoples, ethnic minorities, households with low educational attainment, disabled people, and renters. 


The experience of poverty in working households is avoidable. A human rights approach can help identify the systemic changes needed to reduce poverty, prioritise lives and livelihoods, and realise human rights for all our whānau.


The report recommends greater collaboration between Tangata Whenua and the government, within our communities, with civil society, and between employers and employees to develop a plan to eradicate poverty and ensure human rights are realised for New Zealanders.

Click here to read the news article.

Click here to read Human Rights Responses to Poverty in Working Households He Urupare Tika Tangata mō te Pōharatanga ō ngā Whānau Whaimahi.

Click here to read the Executive Summary of Human Rights Responses to Poverty in Working Households He Urupare Tika Tangata mō te Pōharatanga ō ngā Whānau Whaimahi.