Desperate Saitu family share story of child poverty in South Auckland

Desperate parents Emily and Vice Saitu know the dark, tragic truth of poverty.

They lived with their four children in a cramped South Auckland hotel room for a month while waiting to be placed by Housing New Zealand.

Miracle-Chae is 17 and has cerebral palsy and a club foot, Elijah is 15 and has autism, and Tina, 14, and Siuli, 10, both have delayed learning disabilities.

The Saitu children didn't go to school for months as they shifted between addresses and the kids spent their days in the hotel room watching music videos.

The family spoke as part of a piece in the Guardian which painted a depressing picture of South Auckland.

Titled 'New Zealand's most shameful secret', the UK publication reads: "The Saitu family are a tragic portrait of New Zealand's most shameful national secret: an epidemic of child poverty that belies the image of a Pacific haven offering equality of opportunity and a prosperous, clean, healthy life of plenty for all.

"Catch a bus or two from Britomart in central Auckland, and after an hour and a half and you will arrive in the urban slum of South Auckland.

"Here, houses are wooden, damp and mouldy and often hold in excess of 10 people. Young children walk the streets in mid-winter with no shoes and gummy eyes. Looming over polluted streams and rubbish-strewn parks is the vast Double Brown Beer Brewery."

Emily Saitu said: "It's cut-throat in New Zealand. If you're struggling you get left behind," Emily told The Guardian.

"I feel like I am screaming for help.

"When I say we are desperate, people avoid my eye, they don't listen to me. They don't want to know that I am going crazy trying to make a life for my children."

Saitu told the Herald the family was living in Australia for four years helping family. They moved back early this year and stayed with family.

But 16 people in one house was too much and her kids weren't coping with the overcrowding. They then stayed in a motel funded by Housing New Zealand for a month but had to leave because the owners double booked it.

Since June, Action Against Poverty advocate Kathleen Paraha, who was previously unknown to the family, has volunteered her bedrooms.

They have been told there is a four-bedroom house available for them in Mangere on September 7, Saitu said.

"We've had all these issues and problems. It's hard enough when you have normal children, but children with disabilities, their mood patterns change. When you're living with other people it's just overwhelming sometimes.

"Everything is on hold. I can't focus on anything else until we get a house."

Saitu has been been begging the government to help her family. But life hasn't always been so difficult for the couple. Emily used to work as a secretary for the Ministry of Justice and her husband worked in a meat processing factory. Now they are both unemployed and look after the children.

She said more needs to be done to help families in poverty.

"I feel like I've been living in a cardboard box. Coming back to New Zealand was great but it was heartbreaking seeing people sleeping in cars. I heard about it but I couldn't believe it. It brought tears to my eyes.

"I'm looking at all the other families suffering in the same boat and I can't believe how New Zealand would turn its back. What they're creating is going to be worse than what they started with."

Ministry of Social Development spokesman Nic Blakeley said the Ministry of Social Development and Housing New Zealand have worked hard to find the family a home.

"Family circumstances and the medical conditions of the children meant the family had very specific housing requirements. These requirements, along with the need to find a house in South Auckland, an area of high housing demand, meant a suitable property was not immediately available."

Blakely said they have been trying to house the Saitu family since May. The ministry paid $8000 for emergency accommodation and put them on the social housing register on June 28 as high priority.

"Since then we have been in close contact with the family's agent - to discuss both social and private housing options, what support is available to move, and ensuring they continue to receive their full and correct benefit entitlement.

"It is disappointing that their case has been presented as an example of a family falling through the cracks - they've received significant assistance from government agencies, the community, and their agent, who has indicated they have been happy with the support offered. We've worked closely with housing providers to get a solution, and find a house."

All the Saitu kids have suffered serious respiratory illnesses from cold, damp homes in the past.

One third of New Zealand children, or 300,000, now reportedly live below the poverty line.

Unicef classify children living in homes who earn less than $28,000 a year or $550 a week as being in poverty. The number of children in poverty has doubled over the last 30 years.

Unicef New Zealand executive director Vivien Maidaborn told The Guardian New Zealand had normalised child poverty.

Prime Minister John Key said he would make child poverty a priority before the 2014 election.

His government's strategy is to get Kiwis off benefits and into jobs.

- NZ Herald

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