Anna is a reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Bay emergency grants increase 54.4pc in a year

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STRUGGLE: Tauranga Community Foodbank manager Nicki Goodwin said the "obvious" reason for the increase in grant payments was rent rises. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN
STRUGGLE: Tauranga Community Foodbank manager Nicki Goodwin said the "obvious" reason for the increase in grant payments was rent rises. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN

Work and Income grants for emergency food have risen by 54 per cent in the past year with working families said to be a major contributor to the increase.

Figures released by the Ministry of Social Welfare and sourced by the Green Party showed the amount paid for Special Needs Grants in the Bay of Plenty increased from $1,337,974 in September 2015, to $2,065,893 at the same time this year.

The Bay's 54.4 per cent increase was above the national average of 46.7 per cent.

However, the number of payments was below the national average annual increase of 16.8 per cent increase, at 12.8 per cent.

Requests for the grants consisted predominately for food, followed by accommodation and medical costs.

Tauranga Community Foodbank manager Nicki Goodwin said the "obvious" reason for the increase in grant payments was rent rises.

"It directly comes out of the food budget. It's the only part of the budget that can vary, if they don't pay their power, it'll be cut off. It has to come from somewhere."

She said in the past three months the number of people coming to the foodbank had gradually increased, with them seeing a lot of working families asking for help.

Green Party social development spokeswoman Jan Logie said the grant increase showed Tauranga was suffering from the Government's "failure to intervene early enough in Auckland".

Grey Power board representative Christina Humphreys said factors such as the comparatively low pension and minimum wages contributed to the need for special grants.

"People are under-paid in the work force so there is no way they can save to buy a house in this market. We elderly are receiving a low pension compared to most OECD countries, $300 a week pension wouldn't even pay a rent, so those elderly with only the pension to live on have to go and ask for help.

"People on the minimum wage are stuffed, there is certainly no way they can save for their retirement."

The Special Needs Grant could also be used for emergency situations including dental or medical treatment and setting up a home for survivors of domestic violence, long-term patients and released prisoners.

Shakti Women's Refuge manager Sonia Pathak said because of early intervention there were more clients coming through the refuge and they were often eligible for the grants.

Social worker Ben Conning said he had seen the increase in people needing the Special Needs Grant.

"We might see kids with no lunch or breakfast but it's a quick fix. But it's really about working with the home."

Ministry of Social Development Bay of Plenty regional commissioner Mike Bryant said hardship assistance had increased for electricity and gas, getting driver licences, and health related costs.

He said the new Emergency Housing Special Needs Grant which began in July had also contributed to Special Needs grant increase.

NZ First MP Clayton Mitchell said he was not surprised with the grants statistics, but expected there to be further increases in requests for Special Needs Grants.

"We've got working class families who can't afford to pay the rent. NZ First will implement GST off food as one of our principle policies. To tax people to eat to live is just terrible when you think about it."

Labour social development spokeswoman Carmel Sepuloni said despite the Government "celebrating a reduction of benefits, what we're actually seeing is working families accessing special support".

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said he too was not surprised, but put it down to Tauranga and the Western Bay's "strong growth".

Western Bay MP Todd Muller said the increase showed there was a system for help through times of toughness.

"There are various drivers of the increase. Such as demands on families over the winter months and housing."

A woman from Parkvale, who did not want to be named, said she was eligible for a Special Needs Grant to move from emergency motel housing to pay for bond for a rental property and food for a "proper grocery shop".

"It all has to do with the cost of living at the end of the day, rent in particular. Even with temporary additional support my rent is about two thirds of my income."

Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin said there had been a noticeable increase of people seeking assistance from the organisation's financial mentors for help applying for Special Needs grants.

"With the increased cost of housing, especially rent, the household budget is stretched and people are struggling unless they can get additional paid work," she said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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