Poverty in New Zealand

Below are two articles I spotted recently on poverty in New Zealand. I think it is useful to point this out, as sex industry advocates want us to think that prostitution is ‘necessary’ because of women’s poverty, and that prostitution somehow ‘cures’ women’s poverty (if that were true there would be no poverty by now).

If prostitution was such a great way to make money, wouldn’t all poor women do it? The reality is that prostitution is most profitable for the pimps and brothel keepers, and a very small number of young, conventionally attractive, relatively privileged women, for a short time only; other women end up there out of desperation, deeper desperation, it seems, than having to rent a garage to live in.

Schoolgirls in New Zealand are skipping class because they cannot afford sanitary pads and are being forced to use phonebooks, newspapers and rags to make-do during menstruation.

In the last three months local charity KidsCan distributed 4,000 sanitary items to more than 500 low-income schools nationwide after they were given a NZ$25,000 (USD$18,000) government grant to begin to address the issue.

Because KidsCan buy in bulk, they are able to purchase packs of sanitary products for around NZ$1 – instead of the NZ$4-8 that supermarkets usually charge. Sanitary products are taxed in New Zealand.

Vaughan Couillault, principal of Papatoetoe high school in south Auckland, said it was a “serious concern” that many of his 700 female students from lower socio-economic backgrounds could not afford the products to manage their monthly cycle hygienically.

This year KidsCan started supplying the school with sanitary items, but before that his staff would make regular trips to the supermarket to buy sanitary supplies, and charge female students 50 cents to cover costs. According to Couillault, at other low-income schools in New Zealand teachers buy students sanitary products using their own money.

Sarah Kull, a school nurse at Papatoetoe, said since the 50 cent charge was removed the number of students approaching her for sanitary products had increased to around 10-15 pupils each day. Half of them needed one-off items and half were stocking up to cater for their entire period.

“There is a shame factor involved in asking for help with such an intimate part of your life, and I think the girls we see approaching us are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Kull.

“A lot of girls are too embarrassed to ask. We also have about the same number each day come to us for pain relief related to their periods. Paracetamol is cheaper than pads but there is still a cost involved, which for many students from low-income families is unmanageable.”

Labour MP Louisa Wall is spear-heading the campaign to draw attention to school-age girls who can’t afford the average NZ$5-15 (USD$3-10) a month for sanitary items. She has also been told of women in hospital who have been unable to access sanitary items, and that many female university students struggle to pay to cover their periods.

“Local schools started coming to me and saying: ‘We need help with this’. Girls are skipping class and sports because they can’t afford the sanitary items that make their periods a normal part of life,” she said.

“This issue is still taboo and we really need to start addressing it because sanitary items are not a luxury – they are a basic necessity. Not being able to afford them is holding many girls and women back, and I am especially concerned about them missing out on education because of their periods.”

New Zealand schoolgirls skip class because they can’t afford sanitary items

Should we consider schoolgirls in New Zealand to be at a disadvantage compared to the girls in various African countries, were ‘dating’ a ‘sugar daddy’ in return for money for basic essentials like sanitary pads is ‘normal’ (remember, ‘normal’ here doesn’t mean ‘right’ or ‘good’ or ‘beneficial’, it just means commonplace and unremarkable)? Are these schoolgirls being ‘oppressed’ by the age limit of 18 to enter the sex industry? Remember, sex industry advocates are pushing for the decriminalisation of the commercial sexual exploitation of children as well (this is something I want to write about in more detail, I have seen a sex industry advocate use the rationalisation that ‘children are poor too’).

Hundreds of families in Auckland are living in cars, garages and even a shipping container as a housing crisis fuelled by rising property prices forces low-income workers out of private rental accommodation.

Charity groups have warned that, as the southern hemisphere winter approaches, most of the premises have no electricity, sewage or cooking facilities.

“This is not people who haven’t been trying. They have been trying very hard and still they’re failing,” said Campbell Roberts of The Salvation Army, who has worked in South Auckland for 25 years.

“A few years ago people in this situation were largely unemployed or on very low-incomes. But consistently now we are finding people coming to us who are in work, and have their life together in other ways, but housing is alluding them.”

Auckland’s housing market is one of the most expensive in the world, with property prices increasing 77.5% over the last five years (this growth has now slowed), and the average house price fetching over NZ$940,000 (£440,000), according to CoreLogic, New Zealand.

Combined with low interest rates, rising migration, near full occupancy of state housing in South Auckland, and minimal wage rises, the pressure on many low to middle income earners has become too much to bear.

Some families are now forced to choose between having a permanent roof over their heads, or feeding themselves and their children.

Jenny Salesa, a Labour MP in the South Auckland suburb of Otara, says Maori and Pacific peoples are overwhelmingly bearing the brunt of Auckland’s housing crisis, and she has people coming to her office every day begging for help.

“People are living in garages with ten family members and paying close to NZ$400 for the privilege,” said Salesa.

“People are ashamed their lives have come to this, and they try to hide. But you can tell which garages are occupied – there are curtains on the windows, small attempts to make it a home. And on the weekends, in the park, there can be up to fifty cars grouped together, with people sleeping in them.”

Salesa estimates nearly 50% of people asking for her help in finding a home are in paid employment, and many families have two parents working and are still unable to make ends meet.

Nobody knows exactly how many people are living rough in Auckland, but common estimates range in the hundreds.

Darryl Evans, CEO of Mangere Budgeting in South Auckland, says on some roads in South Auckland every second house has additional accommodation erected – be it an occupied garage, a portable cabin with a chemical toilet, or tents pitched on the front and back lawn.

“Up until a few years ago, a family member might let you camp in the garage at no cost, as a temporary set-up,” said Evans.

“But now landlords have cottoned on to how desperate people are, and are renting out garages or Portakabins for hundreds of dollars. Our food bank – every food bank in Auckland – is under the most pressure its ever been.”

Evans has also seen many families get trapped in a cycle of a gradual migration south, chasing cheaper rents, but causing huge unrest for children, who are unable to access regular schooling, health care or social support networks.

“People living in these situations are feeling huge shame,” said Evans.

Last week the New Zealand government announced NZ$41.1m for emergency housing, but with winter mere weeks away, charities believe any assistance will come too late for most.

“We warned the government six or seven years ago that a housing crisis was looming,” said Roberts.

“Successive governments have ignored our warnings, and now look where we are. The worst homelessness I have seen in 25 years. You might be able to survive like this in the summer, but you can’t in winter. You just can’t live like this in a New Zealand winter.”

New Zealand housing crisis forces hundreds to live in tents and garages

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  1. New Zealand’s most shameful secret: ‘We have normalised child poverty’

    For 14 days and 14 nights Elijah Saitu, 15, has lived in a damp motel room, bordered by KFC to the left and a Denny’s 24-hour takeaway to the right.

    He spends his days watching music videos on television and eating white bread, tinned sardines, fizzy drinks and packets of chips.

    “He’s suffocating,” says Elijah’s mother, Emily Fiame Saitu, who has been begging the government to help her family.

    “It’s cut-throat in New Zealand. If you’re struggling you get left behind.”

    The Saitu family are a tragic portrait of New Zealand’s most shameful national secret: an epidemic of child poverty that belies the image of a Pacific haven offering equality of opportunity and a prosperous, clean, healthy life of plenty for all.

    The family of six have been living in two motel rooms in South Auckland for a fortnight.

    The motel bill is paid for by Housing New Zealand, a government agency, while the family wait for a state house that is warm and dry enough not to make the Saitu kids sick (they have all suffered serious respiratory illnesses from cold, damp homes).

    Elijah, who is autistic, spends all day staring at the pink wall next to his single bed, stroking the flaking paint. His three siblings aged 17, 14 and 12 – also spend their days inside, watching music videos. Their parents are wary of letting them wander around the cut-price motel, which largely caters to solo travelling truck drivers.

    None of the Saitu children attend school, and haven’t for months. Without a permanent address – or any idea when or where one will come – in the local catchment area, enrolling in any of the local schools has been a battle.

    Two of the Saitu children are severely disabled and need to attend special education schools, where government places are competitive and difficult to secure. Apart from a few picture books and a couple of dolls their play and intellectual stimulation is nil.

    “I feel like I am screaming for help,” says Emily Saitu, adding: “When I say we are desperate, people avoid my eye, they don’t listen to me. They don’t want to know that I am going crazy trying to make a life for my children.”

    The Saitu children are not alone in their desperation. A third of New Zealand children, or 300,000, now live below the poverty line – 45,000 more than a year ago.

    Unicef’s definition of child poverty in New Zealand is children living in households who earn less than 60% of the median national income – NZ$28,000 a year, or NZ$550 a week.

    The fact that twice as many children now live below the poverty line than did in 1984 has become New Zealand’s most shameful statistic.

    “We have normalised child poverty as a society – that a certain level of need in a certain part of the population is somehow OK,” says Vivien Maidaborn, executive director of Unicef New Zealand.

    “The empathy Kiwis are famous for has hardened. Over the last 20 years we have increasingly blamed the people needing help for the problem.

    “If you can’t afford your children to have breakfast, you’re a bad budgeter. If you aren’t working you’re lazy. But our subconscious beliefs about some people ‘deserving’ poverty because of poor life choices no longer apply in today’s environment. We have to ask ourselves as a society, are we really prepared to let our children grow up this way?”

    For a third of New Zealand children the Kiwi dream of home ownership, stable employment and education is just that – a dream.

    For poor children in the developed South Pacific nation of 4.5 million illnesses associated with chronic poverty are common, including developing world rates of rheumatic fever (virtually unknown by doctors in comparable countries such as Canada and the UK), and respiratory illnesses.

    Meals are irregular and nutritionally poor, consisting of meat pies, hot chips and 99c white bread. School attendance may be patchy or skipped entirely, and protective clothing and footwear for the harsh New Zealand climate is a luxury.

    While poor children don’t die of starvation in New Zealand, they increasingly live a strained existence.

    “Poor children in New Zealand don’t fully participate in life, they miss out on so many things that make life rich and meaningful,” says Linda Murphy, a social worker with the Auckland City Mission. “Like music, like sport, like a full education, like the expectation that they will grow up and find a job.

    “The momentum in these young lives becomes about survival, nothing else.”

    The mission is located in busy central Auckland but the most deprived regions of this increasingly chaotic mega-city are in South Auckland, in the ghettoised suburbs of Otara, Papatoetoe and East Tamaki.

    This is where Hirini Kaa, an academic on the management committee for Child Poverty Action Group, and an Anglican pastor, has lived for most of his life.

    “It is interesting the world believes New Zealand to be an ideal country,” Kaa says. “But it’s more interesting that we also believe that myth about ourselves.”

    Catch a bus or two from Britomart in central Auckland, and after an hour and a half and you will arrive in the urban slum of South Auckland.

    Here, houses are wooden, damp and mouldy and often hold in excess of 10 people. Young children walk the streets in mid-winter with no shoes and gummy eyes. Looming over polluted streams and rubbish-strewn parks is the vast Double Brown Beer Brewery.

    “Child poverty has always been here – especially among Māori and Pacific populations – but it wasn’t until homeless people started interrupting middle-class voters having coffee in central Auckland that the government decided to ‘tackle’ it,” Kaa says.

    “If it’s segregated in South Auckland, fine. If it’s interrupting my latte asking me for money, we have a problem.”

    Before the 2014 election the prime minister, John Key, said tackling child poverty would be a priority for his government.

    The government’s child poverty strategy is built on getting Kiwis off benefits and into jobs.

    But the problem is that any of New Zealand’s poorest children are now living in families with one or more parents in employment who still can’t get by or make ends meet.

    “The consistent message from the government is that work is the route out of poverty, even though around 37% of children in poverty have two parents with two incomes,” says associate professor Michael Anthony O’Brien from the school of social work at Auckland University, who is also a member of the Child Poverty Action Group.

    “The government is doing as little as they can get away with … the most significant action they’ve taken is increasing the benefit by about $25 a week for beneficiaries with kids. That’s it – that’s the biggest thing they’ve done.”

    Darrin Hodgetts, a professor of societal psychology at Massey University and an expert on poverty in New Zealand, says the government’s stance that jobs would lead poor families out of poverty was nothing more than propaganda. “We have to stop blaming the poor for being poor,” he says.

    “The myth that these families are somehow inherently dysfunctional and they can’t look after their kids. That is not true. That children are failing because their families are bad. It is not true. The state is abusive, the welfare system is abusive, and after decades of this many people can’t cope.”

    Although child poverty is most visible in the major cities, Kaa says he has relatives in the isolated regions of the East Cape and Northland who are going without many basics – including electricity.

    “The level of intergenerational, ingrained child poverty has reached a point that it is challenging the idea New Zealand has of itself as an egalitarian nation; the myth that we are god’s own country,” he says.

    It’s Sunday night at the Rayland Motel and Emily Saitu is preparing for another week of holding out the begging bowl.

    In her youth she worked for the ministry of justice as a secretary. She thrived on the order and routine of the job, and the regular pay cheques that allowed her to eat pancakes and cappuccinos at Denny’s with her brother.

    But that was nearly 20 years ago – before she had four children, before her husband lost his job in a meat processing factory, before life in New Zealand became hard.

    “When I meet my counterparts around the world they are deeply shocked to learn of such ingrained, desperate poverty in New Zealand,” says Maidaborn of Unicef. “We have been very good at selling a brand New Zealand. And increasingly that brand is being exposed as a marketing ploy, not a deep systemic reality.”

    As Saitu pores over files of documentation – applications for benefits, applications for disability assistance, applications for help – her two daughters draw pictures in the misted glass of the motel room. Looking in from outside the whole door is covered in their finger paintings – squiggly patterns, rain drops and a frowning sun.

    “New Zealand is ashamed of us, they want to forget about us,” says Saitu, aggressively wiping tears from her eyes. “New Zealand doesn’t want my children.”

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