“You look a little bit dark for my liking”: Māori and Pasifika women’s experiences of welfare receipt in Aotearoa New Zealand


  • Claire Gray




lone mothers, welfare, ethnicity, racism


INTRODUCTION: Based on empirical research with Māori and Pasifika lone mothers, this article considers the way that discourses of ethnicity and welfare combine to shape the lived experience of welfare receipt.
METHOD: Drawing from 16 focus groups and interviews conducted in 2014 throughout Aotearoa New Zealand with women receiving Sole Parent Support, we analyse the way participants spoke of their experiences with Work and Income New Zealand.
FINDINGS: Our findings indicate that the negative experiences related to the receipt of welfare in New Zealand are intensified for women who identify ethnically as Māori or Pasifika. Many of the women who took part in the research attributed poor treatment, including the denial of access to welfare entitlements, to their ethnicity. Participants spoke of avoiding visits to welfare offices because of the racism they anticipated experiencing in these spaces.
CONCLUSIONS: There are significant implications for these findings. We argue that identifying as Māori or Pasifika can have consequences in relation to accessing welfare entitlements and that ethnicity may negatively influence interactions within welfare offices in Aotearoa New Zealand.


Beddoe, L. (2014). Feral families, troubled families: The spectre of the underclass in New Zealand. New Zealand Sociology, 29(3), 51–68.

Colvin, G. (2008, September). The place of the native in the constitution of the white supremacy in New Zealand: A case study of settler press news stories about Maori. Paper presented at the Maori Research Symposium, University of Canterbury, Christchurch.

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine. Feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 138–167.

Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 1241–1299.

Curtis, B., & Curtis, T. (2015). The personal debt industry: Racist debt practices and Pasifika peoples in New Zealand. In S. M. Değirmencioğlu & C. Walker (Eds.), Social and psychological dimensions of personal debt and the debt industry (pp. 268–287). Houndmills, Hampshire, England: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dow, D. (2014). Negotiating “the welfare queen” and “the strong black woman”: African American middle-class mothers’ work and family perspectives. Sociological Perspectives, 58(1), 36–55.

Edin, K., & Lein, L. (1997). Making ends meet: How single mothers survive welfare and low-wage work. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Ferguson, J. (2013). The dream is over: The moral regulation of single mothers in New Zealand (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://researchspace.auckland.ac.nz/handle/2292/20202

Gray, C. (2017). A crying shame: Affect, emotion and welfare receipt in New Zealand (Unpublished doctoral thesis). University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Hancock, A. (2004). The politics of disgust: The public identity of the welfare queen. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Hays, S. (2003). Flat broke with children. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Humpage, L. (2012). Understanding Maori and Pasifika attitudes towards employment and unemployed. New Zealand Sociology, 27(2), 29−53. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=068776852928892;res=IELHSS

Jensen, T., & Tyler, I. (2015). “Benefits broods”: The cultural and political crafting of anti-welfare commonsense. Critical Social Policy, 35(4), 470–491.

Kingfisher, C., & Goldsmith, M. (2001). Reforming women in the United States and Aotearoa/New Zealand: A comparative ethnography of welfare reform in a global context. American Anthropologist, 103(3), 714–732.

Longhurst, R., Hodgetts, D., & Stolte, O. (2012). Placing guilt and shame: Lone mothers' experiences of higher education in Aotearoa New Zealand. Social & Cultural Geography, 13(3), 295–312.

Macpherson, C. (2006). Pacific peoples in Aotearoa/New Zealand: From sojourn to settlement. In K. Ferro (Ed.), Migration happens: Reasons, effects and opportunities of migration in the South Pacific (pp. 97–126). Piscataway, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Marriott, L., & Sim, D. (2015). Indicators of inequality for Māori and Pasifika people. Journal of New Zealand Studies, 20, 24–50.

Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Māori Perspective for the Department of Social Welfare. (1986). Puao te At tu (Daybreak). Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Social Welfare.

Ministry of Health. (2015). Tatau kahukura: Māori health chart book 2015 (3rd ed.). Wellington, New Zealand: Author.

Ministry of Social Development. (2017). Sole parent support – March 2017 quarter. Retrieved from https://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/statistics/benefit/2017/sole-parent-support-benefit-fact-sheet-mar-2017.doc

Mirchandani, K. (2003). Challenging racial silences in studies of emotion work: Contributions from anti-racist feminist theory. Organization Studies, 24(5), 721–742.

Moorfield, J. (2005). Te aka: Māori-English, English-Māori dictionary and index. Auckland, New Zealand: Pearson Education.

Pack, S., Tuffin, K., & Lyons, A. (2016). Reducing racism against Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 45(3), 30–40.

Patterson, G. (2004). Women, mothers and citizens: Lone mothers’ narratives in the context of New Zealand welfare reform (Unpublished doctoral thesis). University of Victoria, Wellington, New Zealand). Retrieved from http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/handle/10063/582

Roschelle, A. (2013). “Why do you think we don’t get married?” Homeless mothers in San Francisco speak out about having children outside of marriage. Advances in Gender Research, 17, 89–111.

Seccombe, K. (2007). So you think I drive a Cadillac? (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.

Skeggs, B. (2004). Class, Self, Culture. London: Routledge.

Skeggs, B. (2011). Imagining personhood differently: person value and autonomist working‐class value practices. The Sociological Review, 59(3), 496-513.

Smith, L. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. (2nd ed). New York, NY: Zed books.

Statistics New Zealand. (2012). Working together: Racial discrimination in New Zealand. Retrieved from http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/people_and_communities/asian-peoples/racial-discrimination-in-nz.aspx

Statistics New Zealand. (2014). 2013 Census: Quick stats about culture and identity. Retrieved from http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/quickstats-culture-identity/pacific-peoples.aspx

Tanielu, T., & Johnson, A. (2014). This is home: An update on the state of Pasifika people in New Zealand. Manukau, New Zealand: The Salvation Army Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit.

Todd, C. (2008). Political discourse and the domestic purposes benefit (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

Tuffin, K. (2008). Racist discourse in Australasia: Reviewing the last 20 years. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(2), 591–607.

Tyler, I. (2008). “Chav mum chav scum.” Class disgust in contemporary Britain. Feminist Media Studies, 8(1), 17–34.

Uttley, S. (2000). Lone mothers and policy discourse in New Zealand. Journal of Social Policy,29(3), 441-458.

Wetherell, M., & Potter, J. (1992). Mapping the language of racism: Discourse and the legitimation of exploitation. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Yuval-Davis, N. (2006). Intersectionality and feminist politics. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 13(3), 193–209.


Additional Files



How to Cite

Gray, C. (2019). “You look a little bit dark for my liking”: Māori and Pasifika women’s experiences of welfare receipt in Aotearoa New Zealand. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 31(1), 5–16. https://doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol31iss1id500



Original Articles I