Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Living Wage campaign: 'There's no quality of life'

Kelly Belcher is trying to raise two young children on about $240 a week. Photo / Matthew Theunissen
Kelly Belcher is trying to raise two young children on about $240 a week. Photo / Matthew Theunissen

Solo mother Kelly Belcher is trying to raise her two young children on around $240 a week, a wage she says is not enough to provide her family with a decent quality of life.

Ms Belcher was speaking at the launch of the Living Wage Aotearoa NZ campaign in Auckland today, which aims to combat poverty and inequality by advocating for better wages for low-paid workers.

She works as a cleaner in Auckland and is also studying for a degree.

"I would earn more on the DPB (domestic purposes benefit) but I'm trying to do the right thing and be productive and work, but I get slapped down for it. That's how it feels. There's no quality of life. I look at my two little kids and there's no activities, there's no soccer, there's no swimming, there's no life,'' she said.

Her money was entirely consumed by the necessities of life, and if there were unforseen expenses the consequences could be overwhelming.

"If my kid loses a school jersey that would be catastrophic. For any parent that would be a big deal, but for those of us on wages like us it would be very bad news.''

Organisers are yet to fix what they consider to be a living wage, but Ms Belcher said $16 or $17 an hour would be more reasonable.

Even opposition parties' push for a $15 minimum wage would not suffice, she said.

Darryl Evans of Mangere Budgeting Services said he was seeing people in similar positions to Ms Belcher on a daily basis.

"Many believe the future to be bleak. Some face homelessness, some face loss of employment but overwhelmingly most feel they don't have a familiar or secure future which is distressing for so many individuals, so many families and most importantly, it's distressing for the children of New Zealand,'' he said.

In south Auckland, he was often seeing properties inhabited by two or more families.

He recently came across a property in Mangere where 17 people were living in one house.

"The reality is that the $13.50 minimum wage simply can't sustain a family,'' he said.

Campaign organiser Annie Newman said the first step was to establish an independently calculated, evidenced-based rate for a living wage in new Zealand.

A group of independent researchers was working to establish this.

She felt confident that the campaign would have more success than the recent push to get the minimum wage raised to $15 an hour.

"The minimum wage is about setting something which ultimately is a political compromise, something that the Government of the day think they can live with. What we're doing is saying `we're going to target those who can pay, we're going to target public funds, we're going to direct this at low paid workers' and we're going to say 'these people have to be able to live above the poverty line and currently they're not doing it'.''

She said local governments and other government bodies needed to take a leading role by paying contractors a living wage, as was happening elsewhere in the world.

It was also important for large corporations to start paying a living wage.

Labour said the campaign would lead to a long overdue dialogue about how to ensure working New Zealanders were paid enough to live decent lives.

Labour issues spokeswoman Darien Fenton said Kiwis were working harder than ever but were still struggling.

"The measure of a decent society is ensuring everyone can earn a fair living and get ahead, but the only measure New Zealand can show at the moment is increasing income inequality and child poverty,'' she said.

"It's simply not good enough to assert that low wages are an advantage for New Zealand, as the Government has done, while ignoring the very real problems that have emerged in our low wage economy. This is not only a discussion for workers, unions and communities. It's a political issue that needs to be part of the budget debate over the next few weeks.''

- APNZ

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