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Policy and Legal Framework 4.1


4.1 The Status of People with Impairments in New Zealand [15], [16], [17], [18], [19]

People with impairments are under-represented in tertiary education and over-represented in low socioeconomic groups. Thirty-nine percent of adults with impairments have no educational qualification, compared with 24 percent of those adults without impairments. More than half (56 percent) of all people with impairments have gross personal incomes of less than $15,000.

In 2001, Statistics New Zealand found that there were fewer people with impairments with school or post-school qualifications, compared to the general population.

Educational Outcomes for People Over 15 years of age

  1. Highest qualification - school:
    1. People with impairments, 34%
    2. People without impairments, 42%
  2. Highest qualification - post school:
    1. People with impairments, 27%
    2. People without impairments, 34%

In 1998 the Ministry of Health reported that people with impairments who require intensive assistance on a daily basis were:

  • More likely to have no qualifications (46%).
  • Least likely to have post-school qualifications (21%).
  • More likely to have no qualification if they had multiple impairments.

In 1998, government introduced Special Supplementary Grants, which are paid to Tertiary Education Institutions (universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and wananga), to contribute to support for tertiary students with impairments with high support costs.

The Special Supplementary Grant has contributed to a significant increase in the number of students with impairments participating in tertiary education.

The number of students with impairments has grown from 7,700 (excluding private providers) in 1998 to 19,200 including private providers in 2002.[20] In recent years the number of students with impairments has been growing between 20% and 25% a year, and in 2002 represented 4.5% of all students, up from 2.8% in 1998. However, the rate of participation by people with impairments (at 2.3% in 2001) is estimated to be less than a quarter of the participation rate for those without impairments (at 16.7% in 2001).[21]

It is widely recognised that the lower level of successful participation by students with impairments in secondary and tertiary education affects their ability to gain employment. Statistics New Zealand reported in 2001 that of those over 15 years living in households only 40% of people with impairments were employed, compared to 70% for those without impairments. People with impairments, therefore, are less likely to be in employment, with the proportion employed decreasing with increasing impairments. This trend and that relating to income also reflects what is occurring for Māori with impairments.

The fact that so many people with impairments are out of work is an international problem, causing spiralling welfare costs and productivity loss in many countries. The World Bank estimates that the annual loss of GDP globally due to long-term and short-term impairments is between US$1.37 - 1.94 trillion.

It does not make economic sense to allow the continuation of barriers that prevent people with impairments gaining access to tertiary education and achieving academic success. If these barriers are not resolved the investment in education, training and supporting people with impairments will be wasted. Instead of contributing to society, many people with impairments will receive benefits. The potential loss of income and the economic and social cost will be significant.

The 2001 New Zealand Disability Survey can be a useful tool for planning. An overview of this survey is available, using the following resources:

  1. Statistics New Zealand. 2002. Disability Counts Report.
  2. Statistics New Zealand website