One in three New Zealand households has a net worth less than $100,000.

But 15% are worth more than a million dollars.

The median total net worth of New Zealand households was $289,000, but  wealth in New Zealand is concentrated in the top 20 percent of New Zealand households, which hold about 70 percent of total household net worth.

This disparity which emerged  in a set of Statistics NZX figures released yesterday set up a war of political words yesterday.

Even so,  POLITIK is aware that among some influential New Zealanders, usually supportive of the Key Government, there is a growing concern that the disparity in wealth indicated by these figures, could also indicate that there is a potential for the kind of populist backlash seen with Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit vote in Britain.

The press release from Statistics NZ’s headline — “Top 10 percent of households have half of total net worth — almost sounded line a line from a Trump speech.

Perhaps for that reason, several hours after the statistics were produced, the office of Finance Minister Bill English, produced a statement clearly intended to put them in perspective.

In the statement, Mr English said: “Wealth distribution among households in New Zealand is around average for OECD countries – about the same as Canada, but considerably more equal than the Netherlands and the United States so it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

Furthermore, there is no evidence in the latest Statistics NZ release of any increase in wealth inequality over time.

The latest estimate that around 50% of total household net worth is held by 10% of households is the same as reported in 2003/04 in Statistics NZ’s Survey of Family Income and Employment.”


Predictably Labour and the Greens jumped on the figures.

Labour’s Grant Robertson unpicked the Minister’s claim about where New Zealand stood internationally.

“New Zealand’s inequality is worse than the UK, Australia and Canada,” he claimed.

“ In New Zealand, the net worth of the bottom 20 per cent is less than a quarter of the net worth of the top 20 per cent.”

And Mr Robertson also one who saw parallels with the United States and Britain.

““The ramifications of inequality have become clear in recent days in the Brexit vote and also in the way the US Presidential primaries have played out.  

“One of the consequences of inequality is that it creates a large group of disenfranchised people who feel forgotten and alienated.

“They then become easy targets for peddlers of fear and hate.”

Mr Robertson said the big driver in asset inequality was the family home.

“National’s inability to solve the housing crisis is locking a generation out of home ownership.

“This makes it almost impossible for low-income households to catch up.”

Ironically, Winston Peters,  the one politician who conceivably would have the most to gain from exploiting figures like these had nothing to say yesterday on them.