Te Taunaki Public Service Census 2021 collected information on disabled peoples’ experiences working in the Public Service, which gave us information and insights not previously available.

Insights from Te Taunaki

Having information from Te Taunaki is a first step in understanding the barriers and opportunities experienced by disabled people in the Public Service and to inform actions that will progress the inclusion and equity kaupapa.

Of those completing the survey, 5.5% reported a functional limitation, disability, health condition or impairment that caused them difficulty and 17.9% reported a mental health condition (see section on Measuring disability and mental health below).

Key insights from the disability and mental health data collected in Te Taunaki were:

  • The 3 most common functional limitations identified in the survey were in
    • seeing
    • remembering or concentrating
    • walking or climbing stairs.
  • Disabled public servants were more likely to be of Māori and/or Pacific ethnicity and/or be part of a rainbow community.
  •  Disabled public servants in Te Taunaki were also more likely than their non-disabled colleagues to be older while those reporting a mental health condition tended to be younger than other public servants.
  • The length of time a person has worked in a role, agency, Public Service, and wider Public Sector was generally longer for those who reported one or more functional limitations in Te Taunaki than they were for other public servants.  This mirrors a finding from a 2018 Stats NZ report on measuring inequality for disabled New Zealanders that disabled people tended to have longer job tenure than non-disabled’. However, public servants who reported a mental health condition generally had a shorter tenure than other public servants. These differences may be partly explained by age differences.
  • The occupations that disabled public servants were more likely to work in also tended to be those that were lower paying and this group was also more likely to have lower-level qualifications.
  • Disabled public servants reported significantly lower feelings of inclusion across the full range of inclusion questions. For example, 70% of disabled employees felt comfortable being themselves at work compared to 83% of non-disabled employees.
  • Work satisfaction (69% overall) was lower for public servants who reported a functional limitation (57%) or mental health condition (58%), and even lower for those who reported both (48%). This mirrors 2018 Stats NZ report on disability that noted disabled people tended to have lower job satisfaction than non-disabled.
  • Public servants with functional disabilities were less likely to feel positive about their career development across all areas Te Taunaki asked about (access to opportunities and encouragement and support for those opportunities).
  • Trust in work colleagues “to do what is right” (78% overall) was lower for those who reported a functional limitation (68%) or mental health condition (71%), and lower again for those reporting both (59%). This mirrors another finding from the 2018 Stats NZ report that disabled people reported lower levels of trust in other people and in public institutions.
  • Physical accessibility of buildings was raised as an ongoing challenge, and loud open-plan offices were also problematic for those who are neurodivergent.

Disability representation in senior leadership

Te Taunaki found that disabled public servants were underrepresented at all levels of management: 2.9% of senior leaders (tiers 1 to 3); 3.1% of tier 4; and 4.3% of tier 5 (or another type of manager or team leader) were disabled, all lower proportions than in the Public Service overall (5.5%).

Measuring disability and mental health

The questions used in Te Taunaki (the Washington Group Short Set of Questions) are an internationally valid and reliable way of collecting disability information, but they also have limitations. They don’t capture the prevalence of disability, and many disabilities are not captured.

For each of the activities asked about in Te Taunaki, public servants were asked to rate their level of difficulty on a 4-point scale: ‘no difficulty’, ‘some difficulty’, ‘a lot of difficulty’ or ‘cannot do at all’. The same threshold used by Stats NZ (either ‘a lot of difficulty’ or ‘cannot do at all’) was used to measure functional limitation, disability, health condition or impairment.

The 2018 New Zealand Census also used the Washington Group Short Set and 6.5% of respondents identified as having one or more activity limitations. As mentioned, these results do not necessarily reflect prevalence to the limitations of the questions.

The 2013 Disability Survey from Stats NZ was designed to measure prevalence and estimated the disability rate to be 16% for the Public Service workforce. This was a lower rate than that found for the overall workforce, although the difference was not statistically significant.

As well as the questions around functionality limitations, we included an additional question on whether or not public servants experienced any mental health conditions lasting 6 months or more. Respondents may have understood this in different ways, in terms of severity, persistence, or timing. The New Zealand Health Survey provides more in-depth information on mental health.

New Zealand Health Survey — Ministry of Health

More up-to-date information on disability prevalence will be available from Stats NZ in 2024 as the next Disability Survey results become available. We’ll also continue to work with our disabled communities and Public Service organisations to improve the way we collect and report on disability data, particularly as we work towards the next round of Te Taunaki in 2024.

Further information

We use the ‘social model’ of disability and promote the participation and leadership of disabled people in society, with the same access to opportunities as non-disabled people. For more information around this model and the New Zealand Disability Strategy, see the Office for Disability Issues website.

Guidance for policy makers — Office for Disability Issues

A more in-depth look at disabled public servants in Te Taunaki is available in the Disability Deep Dive.

Disability Deep Dive

For more data, see the Census drilldown data cubes.

Data drilldown and technical guidance