Adult poverty brought to light with public health hui

By Sarah Harris

Living off porridge and two-minute noodles is the only option when you get $13 a week.

South Auckland woman Kathleen Paraha, 59, was plunged into poverty in 2005 when she had to stop work because of health issues and looking after her grandchild. She is one of 622,000 people living below the poverty line in New Zealand, a number estimated by the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services.

Almost twice as many adults live in poverty than children.

A hui has been called to discuss adult poverty on May 17. Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP), Te Puea Marae and City Mission will speak.

AUT senior public health lecturer Heather Came said the hui will help brainstorm what the public health sector can do for adult poverty, which is a critical determinant of health.

"It's not as sexy as child poverty. But if we lift the health of the most vulnerable, we lift the health of everybody."

Paraha lived on $13 a week after her power, rent and debts had been subtracted for five years while looking after her granddaughter. She called poverty "the lowest form of life".

"You can't do anything. Buying things like eggs is a luxury.

"It's really, really hard. It has you in tears. Your dignity is gone, your pride is gone."

She survived by borrowing money and food from her children and using food parcels. For a treat she would take her granddaughter to watch the planes lift off from the airport, they couldn't afford to go to the movies, celebrate birthdays or Christmas.

Paraha sought advocacy assistance from AAAP and had her benefit increased. A Ministry of Social Development representative said Paraha now receives $272.48 a week after bills and she has claimed some kind of benefit for 17 years.

Around 622,000 Kiwis live in poverty, of which 230,000 are children. Photo / Dean Purcell
Around 622,000 Kiwis live in poverty, of which 230,000 are children. Photo / Dean Purcell

Paraha said she actually gets $170 in the hand each week as a further $104 goes towards debt to finance companies because of a car crash and hire-purchase agreement.

Paraha wished she was well enough to work and said she has never been addicted to drugs or alcohol. Despite this she still felt the Government and social service providers cast blame on her for getting into her situation.

"I don't smoke, I don't drink. I don't have a life, just my grandchildren.

"There are a lot of genuine people out there who are struggling. No matter how hard I tried it was out of my control."

This is a sentiment AAAP advocacy coordinator Alastair Russell agreed with. He said children were often painted as the "deserving poor" while their parents were undeserving of sympathy.

"Children are cute and cuddly. But the adults can be vilified and blamed for drugs and being lazy. But actually a minuscule number of beneficiaries return positive drug tests."

Kathleen Paraha struggled to survive with $13 a week for her and her granddaughter. Photo / Dean Purcell
Kathleen Paraha struggled to survive with $13 a week for her and her granddaughter. Photo / Dean Purcell

Russell blamed the neo-liberal system for an increasing number of people in poverty. He said even adults in full-time employment could experience poverty because of a low minimum wage, high housing costs and non-guaranteed work-hours.

The number of hardship assistance payments increased by 34.5 per cent from the March 2017 quarter compared with the previous year.

More people are in need of emergency housing than ever. The Government announced a $354 million package last November to fund 2150 emergency housing units that would support 8000 families a year (in three-month rotations).

Russell said long-term sustainable solutions needed to be implemented, such as an enforced living wage, guaranteed hours of work, increasing the benefit so people can live with dignity, building affordable housing and Government responsibility to create decent work for a decent wage.

"It's too easy and too cute to provide milk in schools, too easy to provide raincoats and shoes for kids.

"It's glaringly obvious that children and poverty are living with adults in poverty. So to meaningfully address child poverty you have to address adult poverty."

Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis says he believes more organisations need to develop a social conscience. Photo / Nick Reed
Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis says he believes more organisations need to develop a social conscience. Photo / Nick Reed

Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis said they helped at least 180 homeless people including 100 children. Those people had all experienced at least one of the following: conviction, overcrowding, living below the poverty line, complicated bureaucracy and poor decision-making.

"Poverty to us wasn't just about money. It was poverty of time, poverty of mana and poverty of good decision-making.

"Our marae has a social conscience that is built on the mana and tapu of our tupuna whaea [aunty] Te Puea Herangi."

Dennis wanted to see more holistic support from social services and for them to be open longer hours to increase their accessibility.

- NZ Herald

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