Hunger strike continues over food grants

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Sam Kuha says he has not eaten in 12 days. Photo / Peter De Graaf
Sam Kuha says he has not eaten in 12 days. Photo / Peter De Graaf

Twelve days into a hunger strike, Kaikohe invalid beneficiary Sam Kuha remains determined not to eat again until Work and Income rethinks its food grants policy.

The 59-year-old, who lost a leg and the use of one arm in an accident 20 years ago, said he had not eaten since September 14 when he was refused a $40 special needs grant to buy food. And he has got support from Far North GP Lance O'Sullivan.

Work and Income in Kaikohe said he had already received three grants so needed to see a budgeter before he could get a fourth. But Mr Kuha said he had prepared a budget last time he reached the three-grant limit, and doing another was senseless because neither his income nor expenses had changed. In any case, there was a two-week wait to see a budgeter, he said.

"If they were going to make me go hungry, I decided to take that out of their hands. It's my choice."

He then realised there was no point being on hunger strike if no one knew about it, so last Tuesday he made the 4km journey by electric wheelchair to Kaikohe and used a sledgehammer to smash two windows in the Community Link office.

Mr Kuha said he would not eat until the department changed its policy on special needs grants.

"This is not about me, this is about kids going hungry because their mums or dads are refused a food grant."

He was not yet feeling weak but was feeling the cold, despite being rugged up in thermal underwear, four pairs of pants, jumpers, a jacket, scarf and beanie yesterday.

Mr Kuha said the response to his protest had been "mind-boggling" and a little overwhelming. Apart from talkback host Michael Laws, it had all been supportive, he said.

He had refused offers of food or money but would now pass them on to other people who had been refused grants, through foodbanks in Kaikohe and Moerewa.

High-profile Maori GP Dr O'Sullivan was due to visit Mr Kuha last night to offer support and advice.

Dr O'Sullivan said he was not planning to talk Mr Kuha out of his hunger strike but would offer him a medical opinion.

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