Despite some pretty grim social statistics, Hawke's Bay people are pretty happy.

"We are going to have some serious challenges in the next 30 years," Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule told a public meeting last night.

Almost 100 people turned out to a public meeting in Clive discussing how to build a "decent" Hawke's Bay society.

Mr Yule reiterated the region's weaknesses - 19 per cent unemployed, 44 per cent unable to meet daily living needs and some of New Zealand's least safe streets. Yet we were among the happiest in the country, Mr Yule said.


"It's almost like everybody's on dope.

"Unemployment may be an issue now but in 30 years it will be lack of a skilled labour force.

"My hope is that conversations like this will mean we can focus on how we can change these statistics," Mr Yule said.

Maori community leader Des Ratima advocated the importance of community and instilling a sense of belonging in children.

Former Green Party MP Sue Bradford spoke of the need for a left-wing think tank and for change to the social-welfare structure.

Ms Bradford called the current social-welfare system one of "disentitlement and punishment".

Recently she spent three days helping more than 500 Mangere beneficiaries receive their full entitlement from work and income. The scale of desperation had been disheartening; people were banging on the windows, in need of food and rent.

"Its a very deliberate ploy by the Government to make getting a benefit as difficult as possible."


The Government wanted 100,000 off the benefit and working in 10 years, she said. But at what cost?

"People choosing to stay at home to care for their babies or sick elders have the right to do so."

Ms Bradford left Parliament in 2009 and co-ordinates Auckland Action Against Poverty.

"All people deserve to have the best chance in life," she said.