Life good in NZ - except for the poor

New Zealand has scored well in a global study in safety, education, community involvement and even health - but a big gap between the richest and poorest remains.

The Better Life Index, released yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), places New Zealand close to the top in each of the 11 categories measured.

It said New Zealand was a "top-performing country" in terms of the quality of its education system, with a much higher score in students' skills for literacy, reading and maths. It also found that 73 per cent of adults aged 25-64 had a high school qualification.

In regard to health, the smoking rate had fallen significantly since the mid-1980s - it was now under the OECD average - but there was a higher rate of obesity.

New Zealand's life expectancy was slightly higher than the OECD average, helped considerably by clean air and water, the OECD report said.

Some of the best results came in community engagement, where everything from voter turnout at elections to trust in political institutions was higher, as were regular feelings of positivity and having someone to rely on in a time of need.

"In general, 83 per cent of people in New Zealand say they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc), more than the OECD average of 80 per cent." Safety also scored well - only 2.2 per cent of people reported being victim of a crime, half that of the OECD average, and the homicide rate was significantly less than the average too.

"Fear of crime is another important indicator ... Despite a general reduction in assault rates in the past five years, in many OECD countries feelings of security have declined.

"In New Zealand, 81 per cent of people feel safe walking alone at night, higher than the OECD average of 67 per cent."

New Zealand's average household net-adjusted disposable income is US$21,892 ($26,981) a year, about US$2000 under the OECD average.

But the report noted the "considerable" gap between rich and poor.

The top 20 per cent of the population earned five times as much as the bottom 20 per cent and while most people worked slightly less than the average, 13 per cent of employees worked "very long hours".

- Andrew Koubaridis of the New Zealand Herald

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