Salvation Army ‘state of the nation’

The Salvation Army has put out their 10th annual ‘state of the nation’ report. They have titled it “Off the Track.

Executive Summary

The title of the 2017 State of the Nation report is, in part, inspired by the famous Robert Frost poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’. The final verse of this poem reads:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I— I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This poem describes the choice of which route or track to take, and acknowledges that this single choice made all the difference to what happened subsequently.

And so it is with our national life—the policy route chosen by a Government can make all the difference to what happens subsequently in our collective and individual fortunes.

The National-led Governments of the past eight years have made it very clear that their priority was economic growth and the increase in job numbers and the expansion of incomes that may attend this growth. And this has occurred —especially over the past five years. Such success should be acknowledged both as social progress in its own right and for the opportunities it offers for other sorts of social progress.

However, it is the lack of these other sorts of social progress that most concerns The Salvation Army and, no doubt, many other New Zealanders. This concern has given rise to the focus of this report. We ask: Are we still on the path or track to a shared prosperity as a national community, or have we started to wander off this track?

Three stark conclusions emerge for us from the data and analysis offered in this report:

  1. We have failed to put a dent in rates of child poverty over the past decade.
  2. Our efforts to reduce the prison population have failed and we are planning to expand the already record high prison population by a further 18%.
  3. Housing investment and speculation have been allowed to distort the economy, make us still more indebted, and create levels of homelessness unseen in more than a generation.

We believe the evidence to support these three claims is clear and unequivocal, and some of this evidence is offered in this report.

No matter how we choose to measure child poverty, the emerging conclusion is that nothing much has changed in child poverty rates despite continued economic growth and political rhetoric. A commonly used child poverty measure suggests that 20% of New Zealand’s children (or 212,000 children) live in relative income poverty, while perhaps 8% (or about 85,000 children) face severe material hardship. These numbers are little changed from a decade ago.


While a reliable way of measuring crime rates continues to elude us, it does appear that levels of offending are falling. For example, the number of adults convicted of an offence fell from 90,700 in 2010/11 to 64,600 in 2015/16. Despite this fall, New Zealand’s prison population has grown from 8,400 at the end of 2011 to almost 10,000 by the end of 2016. Furthermore, in October 2016, Government announced a $1 billion plan to expand prisons by a further 1,800 beds.


Auckland’s housing bubble continued to grow during 2016, with the median house price jumping 12% to almost $854,000. Median house prices New Zealandwide grew 12% during 2016 as well, indicating that Auckland’s housing pressures are spreading elsewhere. Alongside these price increases, rents have also increased—growing by around 25% over the past five years, while average wages have risen by half this amount. There is considerable regional variation in these rent increases, with Auckland rent increases slowing recently, while rents in the Waikato have suddenly jumped.

As could perhaps be expected, this rapid increase in house prices has been supported by growing household indebtedness. By September 2016, household debt amounted to 96% of GDP and 160% of disposable household income—both are record highs.

The Government’s strategy has been to drive economic growth, and through this expand job opportunities and incomes. Over the past five years, it has delivered on this strategy—with jobs growing by more than 12% to over 2.5 million and average weekly incomes of employees growing 9% to $987 per week at the end of 2016.

But more jobs and better incomes for those with jobs are not the only contributor to social progress. It is difficult seeing social progress if homeownership rates continue to fall and homelessness becomes more prevalent. A growing prison population is the antipathy of social progress. It is difficult seeing social progress in persistent rates of child poverty—even as the economy grows robustly.

As Robert Frost deduced, the choices made in the past make all the difference to the life we end up living. This is as true of nations as it is of individuals. It appears to The Salvation Army that, either by neglect or silence, we have made political and social choices that have paid scant regard to the interests and future of thousands of New Zealanders —especially our young. This neglect or silence needs to be recognised and addressed if we are to get back on track.

Alan Johnson | Social Policy Analyst Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit

> Download the 2017 Off the Track Report (PDF, 2.37MB)

> Download the 2017 Off the Track Report Summary (PDF, 40.5KB)


  1. I have just had a fly through the annual reports of the SalvationArmy NZ from 2007 until 2017. They have been remarkably consistent with the theme that NZ is on the wrong track and their criticism of child poverty, housing availability and numbers of people in prison. They do not acknowledge except very grudgingly any progress in the decade that they have been making the Annual Statement. I personally consider they have crossed the line and are guilty of entering into a political debate about national policies and priorities, that should be forbidden territory for a Religious Charity. Their charitable status needs a hard look at.

    • Gezza

       /  8th February 2017

      I think you are being punitive there Bj. Even if they are pushing hard for changes in government policy direction, and I am prepared to entertain your notion they have become strongly left politicised, which may be inappropriate, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind they qualify for & deserve charitable organisation status.

      • I just want them to be a bit more balanced in their statements. NZ is not perfect, but what state is? Given the history of our country, I think as a nation state we are doing pretty well, going by overseas reports and the extent of interest in coming to live here for good reasons. What pisses me off is all the negativity I read and hear from our media and the sycophants who follow them. Why do not people look around them and see the advantages of living here or are we all “gimmes”?

    • Joe Bloggs

       /  8th February 2017

      BJ, I don’t recall you being quite as vociferous over Brian Tamaki’s denunciation of alternative lifestyles and the causality of earthquakes…. a different discourse, but just as political …

      As for the Sallies, income inequality, and the apparent widening of the gap between rich and poor has become a prominent issue. Incomes for the wealthiest continue to rise, while working class wages remain stagnant at best, with an ever-increasing share of the national wealth accruing to the already well-off.

      The equal dignity and worth of all human beings is a value that we see throughout the gospels in the way Jesus treated the poor and the infirm. His life, as described in the gospels, was incredibly political, ousting the money-lenders from the temples, scorning the accumulation of wealth over care of the poor, and so on. Would you have the Sallies turn their backs on that?

      • Joe, I am a Christian in behaviour not a person who interprets the bible literally. I treat my fellow beings as I would expect them to treat me, if I say something about a person, my test is to confirm that I could say the same thing to them face to face. I do not need a lecture about equal dignity and worth of human beings, because I am an honourable person and believe that my life has been lived according to essential Christian values. I do not attend church because I have learned over the years just how shallow the lives of those who pretend to be Christian but act differently away from the Church. In particular, I consider the Missionaries and Preachers in the Pacific Islands have a huge burden to apy for because of the way they impose on the good nature of the locals. Go and look at the new Centennial Cathedral built in Kiribati from the sweat of the local people growing seaweed for sale and giving their profits to the Church instead of building water supplies, schools and medical facilities. I have no problems with entrepreneurs who make lots of money, because I understand that is how we get jobs for more people who need the dignity of work as well as their spirit of belonging to family and community.

      • Also, Joe on a separate issue, I have signed the petition to Parliament asking for Tamaki’s pseudoChurch to be taken off the list of approved charities. Did you?

        • Joe Bloggs

           /  9th February 2017

          Yes I di BJ. Signed when numbers were still under 10,000. And I posted here as well about the petition – which gained me no end of gyp from a few other posters…

          I commend your godly way of life, and I suspect that you too would speak out when you see injustices occurring. Whether you take the bible literally or nor, the principles of looking out for one another and helping those who can’t fend for themselves are political acts.

    • Conspiratoor

       /  8th February 2017

      Leave the Sallies alone Colonel. You’ve got a damn cheek to talk about them in the same breath as tamaki. They are at the very front line of the worst of human suffering and the last refuge for much of society’s detritus

      • I was not attacking what they do day to day, they get my support when asked. I was making the point that they are better off not choosing Political sides. I will not leave them alone as you demand , as I will speak out against any other organisation that becomes politicised without cause.

        • Conspiratoor

           /  8th February 2017

          And yet you have decided in your wisdom this is grounds for removing their charitable status. I despair

  2. Conspiratoor

     /  8th February 2017

    Arguably the most famous poem in American literature and oddly enough I’ve already asked the love interest to inscribe two lines from it on my headstone…

    Here lies Conspiratoor (sic)
    Two roads diverged in a wood,
    and he took the one less travelled

    • Anonymous Coward

       /  8th February 2017

      Did you ever tell that story?

      • Conspiratoor

         /  8th February 2017

        Not on this forum but would you like me to?

        • Anonymous Coward

           /  8th February 2017

          Yes, is about Mike C and her idea that someone had an app that could add as many ticks as they likes?

          • Conspiratoor

             /  8th February 2017

            You young folks have no patience ac. Nothing to do with Mike C. There are three preconditions necessary for me to bore you with this story. You know what they are

            • Anonymous Coward

               /  8th February 2017

              Starting to think you don’t have a story at all, it’s been more than 6 weeks now.
              Tell you the truth, I can’t remember the three things, I thought it was two people.

            • Conspiratoor

               /  8th February 2017

              Could be your lucky day ac …if two gentleman put in an appearance at the appointed hour