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Social wellbeing

Social wellbeing comprises those aspects of life that we care about as a society

To get a sense of the level of wellbeing in New Zealand and how it has changed over time, we first need to identify what is meant by the notion of wellbeing.

"Wellbeing", in the context of this report, means those aspects of life that society collectively agrees are important for a person’s happiness, quality of life and welfare.

Many of the constituent components of wellbeing will be common to all New Zealanders. For example, Professor Mason Durie, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Māori ) and Professor of Māori Research and Development, Massey University, has noted important outcomes for Māori are likely to include outcomes relevant to the rest of society such as good health and a high standard of living.1 However, the needs and aspirations of different people and communities will also vary in important ways. For example, for people who get comfort and strength from their religion, an important outcome could be spiritual wellbeing, and this might mean having access to a place of worship. The Ministry of Social Development is currently undertaking research on models of social wellbeing employed in different ethnic communities.

The New Zealand Royal Commission on Social Policy (1988) is a useful source of research on what New Zealanders agree constitutes wellbeing and a decent quality of life. The Commission concluded that:

[New Zealanders] have said that they need a sound base of material support including housing, health, education and worthwhile work. A good society is one which allows people to be heard, to have a say in their future, and choices in life ... [they] value an atmosphere of community responsibility and an environment of security. For them, social wellbeing includes that sense of belonging that affirms their dignity and identity and allows them to function in their everyday roles.2

The Social Report 2005 identifies 10 discrete components of wellbeing. We refer to these components as "desired social outcomes", and these are listed in Table IN1. Nine of these domains were used in the prototype The Social Report 2001. A number of changes were made to these domains in subsequent reports as a consequence of stakeholder consultation on the content of the report in 2002. The most significant amendment was the addition of a new leisure and recreation domain in the 2004 report. This year, no changes have been made to the outcomes framework.

The outcome domains are interconnected. Doing well or poorly in one domain is often likely to impact upon performance in another outcome domain. For example, participation in leisure and recreation is a good thing in itself, but it may also lead to improved physical and mental health, and better social networks.