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Listening to communities' needs starting point for improving wellbeing of rural New Zealanders - economist

Rural New Zealand is becoming a harder place to live, according to one senior economist and the key to addressing the problem is listening to "local communities".

A new report, released today by Infometrics, has revealed that the wellbeing of people living in provincial New Zealand is being neglected more than urban parts of the country, with lower employment opportunities, lower pay, higher crime rates and increasing suicide rates.

Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen told TVNZ1’s Breakfast this morning, "What we're seeing is that there is a stark divide between the outcomes for those who are living in urban parts of New Zealand and those who are living in more rural and regional parts of New Zealand."

Mr Olsen said that while the divide was "true on seven of the nine wellbeing domains that Infometrics has looked at", he said the "only two where provincial New Zealand is doing better than urban areas is in the housing area, and also in civic engagement and governance."

The nine wellbeing "domains" include safety; knowledge and skills; jobs and earnings; income and consumption; housing; health; environment and civic engagement and governance.

Mr Olsen said what was "really concerning" about their findings was the comparative income levels and job opportunities for people in rural areas.

"We know that there are some really important fundamentals that we need to get right - healthcare, housing and the environment amongst them – but one of the other really big drivers is work.

"A core part of people's lives is getting up, going to work, having the money to provide for them and their families."

He said the findings saw that "more urban parts of the country had a monopoly, I guess, in many regards, to getting those well-paid jobs, and to getting access to services they need, to having a safe lifestyle, a lot of the time."

"One in six areas of the country last year saw their crime rate increase, and all of those were in rural or regional parts of New Zealand."

He said in order to improve the rural-urban wellbeing divide, we must "go back to basics" and acknowledge that different areas will have different needs for improvement. 

"We need to really focus on the fundamentals and we need to do that at a local community level. The biggest thing that this report outlines is there are massive issues across the country but they're different in each area.

"We can’t have a national-level solution for all of these. We need to go back to those local communities, ask them where they want to be, and what they're willing to do to change it."

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Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen discussed their new wellbeing report released today. Source: Breakfast