Talks set to end protest

By Mike Dinsdale

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Supporters of Kaikohe hunger-striking beneficiary Sam Kuha are claiming victory after Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she'd meet him and listen to concerns if he gave up his protest.

Mr Kuha will today end his 30-day protest hunger strike with a bowl of soup at a Kaikohe cafe after he received the letter from Ms Bennett.

A spokeswoman for Ms Bennett said it was good news Mr Kuha was ending his hunger strike. No plans had been made yet about where and when the two would meet.

The 59-year-old invalid beneficiary stopped eating on September 14 when his request for a $40 food grant was declined by Work and Income (Winz) in Kaikohe. He had refused to see a budget adviser because of a two-week wait involved and because his situation had not changed since his last budget. While his protest was initially directed at Winz' food-grant policy, his focus had since broadened to the poverty affecting beneficiaries' children.

Mana Party Leader and Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira said Mr Kuha deserved a medal. "I will be meeting with Sam and his supporters at Malahi Cafe at Kaikohe at 10am (today) for a bowl of soup as he comes off his hunger strike," Mr Harawira said.

"Sam's frustration with Winz began after he was told that after being granted three food grants he must see a budgeter, despite the waiting list being as long as two weeks. Sam's response to the minister was to tell her that food should be given where it is needed and to scrap the policy.

"Unfortunately, Sam's failure to receive a food grant is common in poor communities. Over the past four years the number of hardship grants for food has nearly doubled. Sam deserves a pat on the back for raising awareness about the issue."

Mr Harawira said he hoped Ms Bennett listened to Mr Kuha and scrapped a policy that left people having to beg. "Good on you, Sam. Not many people I know would starve themselves for a month on behalf of the poor."

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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