New Zealanders are now more worried about petrol prices than they are about healthcare or poverty, a new survey shows.
Housing remains New Zealanders' top concern at the end of 2018, but the latest quarterly poll by market research company Ipsos shows that fuel costs are now front of mind for Kiwis - after barely registering at the beginning of the year.
"Fuel prices and inflation, which are likely to be closely related, have now leap-frogged healthcare and poverty to be the number two and three issues in New Zealand," said Ipsos managing director Carin Hercock.
New Zealanders' concerns differed significantly from Australia, where petrol prices were just the seventh most pressing issue facing the country. Crime and immigration also ranked highly in Australia compared to New Zealand, while New Zealanders were much more concerned about poverty than Australians.
Hercock said middle-income households in New Zealand - those earning between $60,000 and $100,000 - were the most concerned about housing and petrol costs. While the number of people concerned about housing was falling overall, it had risen among this group.
The Ipsos New Zealand Issues Monitor survey took place in early October when petrol prices were close to their peak of $2.49 a litre. At the time, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said consumers were being "fleeced" at the petrol pump and accused oil firms of profiteering.
Automobile Association spokesman Mark Stockdale said the price rise of close to 50c since the beginning of the year had caused a lot of concern.
"Motorists hadn't seen prices that high, there was obviously a lot of public frustration, people were setting up Facebook protests, and truck companies have organised protest convoys," he said.
"Higher fuel prices have a flow-on effect to New Zealanders' lifestyles. If they have to pay more for fuel, they have to cut back their expenditure in other areas immediately. They can see the impact - they have to cut back on their groceries or forgo some meals out or visits to the movies."
Stockdale said it was unclear whether high prices had actually led to a change in motorists' behaviour - though he had heard anecdotally that motorists had bought less fuel in recent months.
Petrol prices have since fallen to around $2.15 a litre, which was likely to be "a much more comfortable level" for motorists, Stockdale said.
The poll showed that New Zealanders thought the National Party would be more capable of managing fuel prices than the Labour Party - albeit by a small margin.
Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges has said that higher taxes on petrol were "pricing Kiwis out of their cars" and has called on the Government to axe them.
Ardern has defended regional fuel taxes, saying they are not the cause of rising fuel prices, that every cent collected is being put into infrastructure, and that the price rises have been balanced out by increases to the minimum wage and benefits.
The Government has promised to push through a law change which will compel fuel companies to provide information to the Commerce Commission about their pricing.
The poll was otherwise positive for the coalition Government. A total of 41 per cent said the Government was doing an "above average" job. That compares to 32 per cent for the previous National-led Government at the time of the general election in September last year.
New Zealanders felt that the Labour Party was much more capable of managing housing, healthcare and poverty issues than the National Party, the poll found.
The proportion of people who felt concerned about housing fell from 50 per cent to 45 per cent in the last three months.
Auckland Action Against Poverty coordinator Ricardo Menendez said housing costs remained the biggest driver of hardship in this country.
Rent and mortgage payments were swallowing up 60 to 70 per cent of some lower income families' incomes - well above the "affordable" threshold of 30 per cent.
The Ipsos poll of 620 people aged 18 and over was taken between October 2 and 8, and had a margin of error of 4 per cent. It did not have any external sponsors or partners.
HUMAN COST OF PETROL PRICE SPIKES
Kirikowhai Andrews spends more than half her income on petrol.
The former bus driver, 60, was forced to quit her work to care for her sister, who has cancer. She also cares for her 13-year-old niece.
And like many New Zealanders, rising petrol costs have hit her hard this year.
Andrews, from South Auckland, said she receives $215 in welfare a week.
"It costs me up to $130 just to fill my little Ford Focus up, and that doesn't even last me a week because sometimes I have to go to Middlemore Hospital, up to Auckland Hospital, driving around for car parks, and taking my niece to and from school."
Because of the travel distance and her sister's condition, public transport is not an option.
Housing costs have forced her out of the private rental market and into social housing. She gave up on private rentals three years ago because of the price - around $500 a week for two bedrooms in Auckland.
"The rent and the bond exceeds what I earn," she said.
Andrews and her chronically ill sister went into a boarding house, and have now been placed in a motel in Takanini by the Ministry of Social Development.
She will move into a state house next week, after being on the waiting list for three months.
Official figures show that the wait for a state house in New Zealand has gradually grown in the last year to around 77 days. More people are also being housed in motels than a year ago.
Andrews says her other main concern is paying for food. She has a grocery budget of around $50 a week for two people, and often has to depend on food banks.
"It costs $5 for a bottle of milk, and that has to last me a week. Once food and petrol costs are taken out, I struggle to make ends meet."