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A survey showing nearly half of all New Zealanders are just scraping by indicates all is not well for the country's poorest families, an economist says.
Statistics New Zealand's general social survey of 8500 households, released today, found or 87 per cent of people were satisfied or very satisfied with their lives overall.
But 48 per cent reported having not enough or just enough money to meet their everyday needs for things such as accommodation, food, clothing and other necessities.
Just over a third, or 36 per cent, reported having major problems relating to the house or flat they live in, mainly relating to heating, dampness and the size of accommodation.
The findings come as poverty and the cost of living look set to become big issues during the lead-up to the November 26 election, with Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff going head to head on the issues in the first leaders' debate of the election last night.
The survey found overall life satisfaction decreased with lower household incomes, with those with an income less than $30,001 being three times more likely to report feeling dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their lives.
It also found unemployed people were three times more likely than employed people to report being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their lives.
Some 46 per cent said they did not have enough money to meet their everyday needs, compared with 13 per cent for employed people, and they were more likely to have problems with their house or flat.
Associate Professor Susan St John of Auckland University's business and economics department said the survey's findings reflected anecdotal evidence from overstretched food banks and budgeting services.
"These agencies have never been busier and that backs up the findings of this survey _ that all is not well,'' she said.
"It just reflects what has been suspected, that things will become more unequal at the detriment to a large number of people at the lower end of the distribution.
"We're not just talking about people on benefits, but of course those people on benefits will be the poorest of the poor, and the ones that are experiencing the worst of these kind of hardship indicators.''
Dr St John said one of the statistics that jumped out was the disadvantages that sole parents faced.
People in sole parent households were twice as likely to be dissatisfied or very dissatisfied and were more likely to feel they did not have enough money to make ends meet.
Almost half had problems with their house or flat, while they were also more likely to feel isolated and discriminated against.
"You'd have to be pretty concerned about policies towards these families, what's causing this,'' Dr St John said.
"These are the ones who are looking after our children. Society should have a real interest in making sure they are adequately supported - they are not adequately supported.''
The survey put to rest the notion that money did not equal happiness, with a big leap in satisfaction between people earning less than $30,000 and those earning more.
"It clearly does matter at those lower income levels in terms of life satisfaction.''
The survey, carried out between April last year to March this year, follows the first general social survey conducted in 2008.
The results were similar to the previous survey, which found 86 per cent of New Zealanders were satisfied with their lives overall.