These are the excuses that some New Zealanders trot out to excuse turning an uneducated blind eye to the suffering of our fellow countrymen / women.
Where is the understanding and compassion that should come in an egalitarian society, where we all respect and care for each other?
Emily Garden is the Project Officer for the Family 100 Research Project – a ground-breaking project that followed 100 Auckland families living in long-term hardship. Family 100 seeks to give a voice to these families in order to understand what factors work to keep people in hardship while others are able to move on to lead more secure lives. Emily has a Masters in Sociology from Goldsmiths College, University of London, and a background that includes tertiary teaching and community mental health.
Emily explains that many of the Family 100 Research Project participants spoken to describe having to choose between keeping warm or eating. One of the clients described it as a juggling act. One mother tells that she and her husband went without meals many times, just for the fact of knowing that their kids are fed. We always put the children first. If it means we have to go without so they can have it, well so be it. Another client described the stress that she goes through, and the everyday feeling of being overwhelmed. She said I more or less thought there was no light at the end of the tunnel, I felt like I was knocking my head against a brick wall.
What is keeping these people in such precarious situations?
The Family 100 Research Project identified 8 key drivers of poverty.
Debt is the first on the list. Families describe paying a poverty premium for expensive credit offered by second tier lenders. One participant explains that her benefit is $386 a week and her rent is $380, so she is left surviving on a mix of charity and loans.
Justice is another issue. Having family members in prison is a major issue, along with traffic fines. Think of how a person in a city, with poor public transport especially in the cheaper outer suburbs, can actually drive to a job. If their vehicle is unwarranted and unregistered for a time, because of low wages, how can they then get to work? Caught with a traffic fine the problem is exacerbated by increasing fines for late payment. The cycle is endless.
Housing is another issue. With little money one cant just up and leave an area to live close to a job. That would be expensive. Then there is a rental shortage in Auckland, forcing rents up and meaning that poor families are often living in substandard overcrowded accommodation, and garages. This then impacts on the families health.
Almost every participant in the study viewed employment as being central to his or her wellbeing and security. Balancing work and childcare responsibilities are not easy however, and some people work more than one job, on the minimum wage, in order to cover their costs. How can anyone be expected to live off $14.25 x 40 less tax (or less if working school hours) when rents take over half of that?
Health. Some of the stories in the report could make you cry. The issue right across the board was dental treatment, which was beyond the ability of anyone to afford. Each chapter in this report lists key change that we need to see, and subsidised dental care is the most critical here. Subsidised doctors appointments and prescription costs even were too much for those with chronic conditions.
Food and health are essentially expendable items. Most other expenses have penalties if they are not paid for. Eating well, or sometimes eating at all, is unable to be a top priority for many. Having something in the cupboards that is suitable for a school lunch was another concern raised.
Dealing with support services is complicated and confusing and can take a great deal of time. People feel that the service systems that are designed to support those in financial hardship, are preventing them from moving forward. Clients often feel humiliated and that their time is not valued.
Education is valued by participants but is seen as difficult for many to access. They face a multitude of barriers when trying to increase their education or when trying to ensure their children remain fully engaged with their schooling. For parents, such barriers include things like continuing poor health, a lack of time for study and travel to and from school, and insufficient funds for things like school trips.
This is a very short overview of some of the issues raised in the report.
Listen to Emily speaking about the project, and you can find more at:
Speaking for Ourselves: The truth about what keeps people in poverty from those who live it – a summary report from the Auckland City Mission Family 100 Research Project and Auckland City Mission.
The Herald reports - Low-income family live week to week with help from City Mission.
This programme was sponsored by www.theawarenessparty.com