Bay kids' heartbreaking poverty

By Genevieve Helliwell

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Western Bay kids are being fed by Tauranga's foodbank, presenting at hospital with serious skin infections and living in sub-standard conditions, principals say. In the wake of a damning report where New Zealand ranked 20 of 35 nations for child poverty, Western Bay principals and community groups said the issue was of deep concern in the Bay.

In Merivale, one of Tauranga's poorest suburbs, families are living in over-crowded houses and illness is rife as parents struggle to afford to take their children to the doctor.

Principal of Merivale School, Jan Tinetti said child poverty was not new in the community but was currently the worst she had seen it in her six years at the school. "It's really tough and there have been times when your heart gets broken," she told the Bay of Plenty Times.

"Some of the things we see, you do want to get out your wallet and pay for all these children but at the same time these parents are doing the best they are able to do for these kids."

Mrs Tinetti said poor living conditions caused school sores, scabies and other illnesses to spread easily and more children were being treated at hospital for skin infections and other poverty-related diseases.

Kaimai School principal Dane Robertson said he could not believe the conditions some people lived in.

"In these houses there are a wide range of issues, the windows are boarded up because parents can't afford to have them glazed, there's no insulation under floors, you can even see cracks in the floorboards and can look down at the ground," he said.

Some people are even struggling to get their kids to school. "If they miss the bus they're not able to come to school because the car isn't warranted or registered or doesn't work," Mr Robertson said.

There had been times when Mr Robertson had offered to pick students up for school.

"[The level of poverty] is getting worse and what I'm noticing is it's a lot tougher for a lot more families," he said.

At Te Akau Ki Papamoa Primary School principal Bruce Jepsen said some children did not have breakfast or lunch and some wore inappropriate clothing - bare feet and a polo shirt in winter and no polar fleece.

"Our key job in education is to teach children and children won't learn if they aren't well and they become unwell if they're hungry," Mr Jepsen said. "The Government wants to address the basics and increase national standards but until we can provide the basics - shelter, clothing, heat, food - nothing will get better."

Paengaroa School principal Bruce Lendrem said many families were no more than three months away from being impoverished.

Each week Tauranga Foodbank issues between 100 to 150 food parcels to struggling families. As at May 31, 453 adults and 834 children needed assistance from the foodbank, a spokesperson said.

The recently-released UNICEF report said failure to protect children from poverty was one of the most costly mistakes a society could make. The report ranked New Zealand 20th out of 35 OECD countries for child poverty. In New Zealand 11.7 per cent of children in live in poverty.

The countries were ranked by the per cent of children who lived in households with a total income under the national median - which in New Zealand is $24,400. Tauranga Budget Advice manager Marjorie Iliffe said poverty was preventable.

"Really in New Zealand there is no excuse for child poverty and unfortunately it's a result of poor decisions and choices people make," Ms Iliffe said.

The co-ordinator of a mobile food van, which feeds children six nights a week in Tauranga, said poverty was not just about being hungry.

Meari Vickers of the Full Stop programme, funded by St Vincent de Paul, said people could be poor financially and have no food, but they could also be poor in friendships or relationships and support.

"Not every child that comes to the van is hungry but there are a lot that are," Ms Vickers said.

About 12,000 people a year use the van's services.

Tell us are you struggling to make ends meet? Email news@bayofplentytimes with your story and contact details.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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