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Arthur Grimes, Senior Fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, summarises the findings of 'Digital Inclusion and Wellbeing in New Zealand', a research report commissioned by DIA and published by Motu this month.

In June, following release of the Digital Inclusion Blueprint, the Department of Internal Affairs commissioned Motu Economic and Public Policy Research (Motu) to examine two main questions relating to internet and other ICT access:

  1. which groups have a lower likelihood of being digitally included in New Zealand and why?
  2. how does digital inclusion relate to waiora/wellbeing.

Below is a summary of the Motu research report answering those questions.


Motu used four large-scale surveys of New Zealanders that included information on internet availability. Some of the surveys also included information on availability of other ICT related items and on internet use.

Insights from 'Digital Inclusion and Wellbeing in New Zealand'

People with disabilities and in social housing are among the least digitally included people in New Zealand.

That’s one of the key findings of 'Digital Inclusion and Wellbeing in New Zealand', a research report by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, which identifies eight key groups within New Zealand prone to relatively low access to the internet.

The eight groups are:

  • people living in social housing
  • people with disabilities
  • Pasifika
  • Māori
  • people living in larger country towns (10,000 to 25,000 people)
  • older members of society, particularly those aged over 75 years
  • unemployed people and those not actively seeking work.

The first two groups – those in social housing and people with disabilities – appear to be particularly disadvantaged with respect to internet access. Pasifika students also reported substantially lower rates of internet access than did students of other ethnicities.

Further insights from the research

Just 69% of people living in Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities (formerly Housing NZ) or local equivalent social housing report having access to the internet, compared with 91% reporting access across all respondents in the '2017 New Zealand Electoral Survey'. In this same survey, only 71% of people with disabilities report having access to the internet.

In the '2018 New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey', 17% of people with disabilities indicate having no internet access compared to the full sample where just 5% have no internet access.

These large gaps in internet access for people who live in social housing and for people with disabilities are potentially amenable to policy interventions. Most social housing is owned by the state, local authorities or non-government agencies.

The social housing provider could take the initiative to install WiFi (or other technologies) to enable internet access by tenants. Provision of such infrastructure may be considered of similar importance to provision of water, sewerage and electricity to these tenants. Such provision is also likely to improve internet access rates for Pasifika students.

Similarly, many people with disabilities are already subject to some form of care through state agencies or non-government agencies. These authorities may consider enabling internet use for their clients as a key intervention to improve the opportunities for people with disabilities to connect with the rest of society.

People with disabilities are also at greater risk than others from an internet violation such as a virus infection or other internet interference. Other at-risk groups include individuals who are not actively seeking work, unemployed, Māori, Pasifika, younger people, and people who are studying.

Insights into wellbeing and internet use

'New Zealand Electoral Survey' (adult) shows that people without internet access are less engaged in civic activities such as voting in general elections and making submissions to government.

Data from the 'Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)' indicate that adolescents without internet access tend to have lower subjective wellbeing than those with access (which may reflect family circumstances).

These data also indicate that as internet use on weekdays outside of school increases, students’ subjective wellbeing declines; once daily internet use exceeds about two hours, there is no positive association between internet use and wellbeing.

In addition, the PISA data show that 15% of 15-year olds (including 27% of Māori students) report using the internet for more than six hours per day on a weekday outside of school, while over half report more than two hours’ use.

Insights for government agencies, researchers and the wider community

  1. Policy consideration should be given to two particularly at-risk groups: social housing residents, and people with disabilities.
  2. People who work with youth (and their family members) may wish to consider assessing the effects of prolonged use of the internet by adolescents.
  3. Further investigation of the wellbeing effects of extended use of the internet is needed – both for adolescents and, if the data is available, for children and adults.
  4. Further analysis is needed of the emerging and future 'Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)', 'New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey (NZCVS)' and 'Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)' data relating to internet (and ICT) access and use.

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