Pasifika in NZ: Drinking down and achievement up

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Plenty of positives in report on how Pacific people are faring in NZ, but home ownership remains elusive.

Cecilia Sagote is a magazine editor, has a part-time job and is also working on a postgraduate degree.
Cecilia Sagote is a magazine editor, has a part-time job and is also working on a postgraduate degree.

Pasifika people are drinking less, staying away from crime and doing better at school.

But more than half of Pacific Islanders in New Zealand do not own their own home, a new report shows.

The Salvation Army has today released a report looking at the state of Pasifika people in New Zealand.

This Is Home - written by social policy analysts Ronji Tanielu and Alan Johnson - highlights issues concerning Pacific people: children and youth, work and income, crime and punishment, housing and social hazards.

Some of the promising trends outlined include changing behaviour associated with alcohol, fewer people committing crime and youngsters performing better in the classroom.

Alcohol consumption among Pasifika has dropped to 56.7 per cent in the past 12 months - down from 58.4 per cent.

The number of Pacific men drinking alcohol also dropped, from 71.9 per cent to 67 per cent. But the number of Pasifika women consuming alcohol jumped slightly.

Figures show 17.8 per cent of Pacific people engaged in hazardous drinking behaviour, down from 23.4 per cent in 2008.

Mangere MP Su'a William Sio pointed to various programmes that may have contributed to a decrease in hazardous drinking behaviour.

"There are lots of organisations out there, particularly church youth groups, that are promoting anti-alcohol and the message for families to keep safe," Mr Sio said.

Community leader the Rev Uesifili Unasa said the figures were pleasing, but questioned whether other factors were at play, such as money being spent on other addictions including gambling.

In the past five years, there has been a 27 per cent drop in the number of Pasifika committing crime. By last December, 15,444 people of Pacific ethnicity had been apprehended for a criminal offence - about 21 per cent fewer than in 2008.

Mr Unasa, chaplain at the University of Auckland, said many Pacific people, particularly youth, were trying to better their lives.

But that was hard when policies changed, school fees went up or family and church obligations became too much.

"I know university fees for some courses, like engineering, have gone up. The reality is, a lot of our Pacific people will not be able to afford to get into those specialist courses.

"And then you've got to ask the question, 'If you can't get in, how are you going to get the jobs?' And you can't afford to buy a home if you don't have a good job."

Enrolments in early childhood education continued to increase and secondary school pupils continued to improve on the NCEA tables.

The number of Pasifika youngsters being stood down has also dropped in the past few years, with 4.4 per cent being suspended last year compared with 7.1 per cent in 2008.

But statistics show the majority, 59 per cent, of Pacific people in New Zealand do not own their own home.

That translates to 151,761 who are not homeowners, while 34,350 were reported as owning their homes last year - 3 per cent more than in 2001.

Mr Sio said those figures angered him. "There are more Pacific people today who have better qualifications and more money, but still can't afford their own home. But there's a shortage of houses around as well and whenever there's a shortage of product, there's great demand and therefore it's more expensive.

"A person living in Mangere who's living wage to wage on a low income is not going to be able to even make the $65,000 deposit on a basic house."

But one local initiative has put at least 22 struggling Pacific families into new homes in South Auckland.

Earlier this year, the Matanikolo Housing Project saw families who had been living in crowded homes and garages moving into brand new houses built by the Tongan Methodist Church, helped by a $4.3 million grant from the Government's social housing fund.

Editor chases home ownership dream

Aucklander Cecilia Sagote knows where she wants to be one day and is working hard to get there.

The 35-year-old is a single mum. She has a business degree and is the editor of Suga Magazine, which she describes as the Pacific version of Girlfriend or Creme.

As well as running the magazine, she also has a part-time job and is working on completing a postgraduate degree - because one day, she'd like to own her own home.

"I'm a single mother with a student loan of $28,800 to pay back. To own my own house is a dream, but not realistic for me [right now]. The only people I know who own their own houses are friends who have partners.

"I'm not saying that marrying somebody would be the answer, but let's face it - paying a mortgage is much easier with two incomes. That's why I went to university ... so I can try to earn the equivalent of two incomes and eventually realise the dream of owning my own home, among other things."

Ms Sagote acknowledged that many young Pacific families made big contributions to help their parents and other siblings. Therefore, it was hard for them to finance their own homes.

"I know that some people prefer to rent because it frees up their lifestyle. They can travel when they want and not be stuck paying a mortgage. I would much rather own a home, though."

Read the full report here:

- NZ Herald

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