All it took was a couple of "bad financial decisions" for Janeane's world to come crumbling down.

Despite her husband putting in 60-hour weeks and earning $60,000 to 70,000 at work, with two young children and soaring living costs, the Far North couple were struggling to make ends meet.

There were high mortgage repayments on their home, two cars to run and maintain and ever-increasing costs of food, power, internet and phone.

They couldn't get family assistance from the Government because they earned slightly over the income-tested threshold.


By the time Janeane and her family got the budgeting advice they so desperately needed, it was too late – they'd been declared bankrupt, lost the house and had one of the cars repossessed.

"We were in real strife," she said. "We'd over committed ourselves. The cost of living these days is huge. We had the car repossessed, the dog died, we had a lot of things go wrong."

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Janeane, 38, spent a year trying to get financial help and was told by budgeting services and the bank 'we can't help you unless you earn more money'. "But I couldn't because I was a full time mum."

It was only when her mother suggested the Northern Community Family Service - who offer free mentoring and guidance for Mid North residents facing financial difficulties - that the family were able to get their lives back on track.

"They went out of their way to come to our house and picked up all the paperwork," Janeane said. "They took it away and looked over it. They were absolutely amazing."

Budgeting adviser Milton David, who established Northern Community Family Service two decades ago, said Janeane's case is one of many examples of Northland's "working poor".

Despite her husband working 60-hour weeks, Janeane lost her house and car after struggling to make ends meet. Photo / Jenny Ling
Despite her husband working 60-hour weeks, Janeane lost her house and car after struggling to make ends meet. Photo / Jenny Ling

Over the last two years he's noticed an increase in working residents seeking financial help because their incomes barely cover the bills.


"You've got people in their mid to late 30s who are working their backsides off and they can't get anywhere. They've got no show of getting their own home. People are finding it difficult to see their way around their cash problems."

There are currently around 700 people "on the books", who regularly get help from the Kerikeri-based service, and David also makes up to 60 home visits a year for people in rural areas who can't afford the trip.

He's expecting an influx of calls from people who have overspent over the festive season after reading Kiwis overspent $533 million on credit, according to financial comparison site Finder.

Increased living costs, including food and petrol, contribute to the working poor, along with people not realising how much interest they'll have to pay back on borrowed money, he said.

"One client borrowed a huge amount of money it was over $100,000. When you tell them they're paying $63,000 back in interest, well, no-one told them that."

Northern Community Family Service budgeting advisor Milton David says more people in the 'working poor' category are seeking financial help. Photo / Jenny Ling
Northern Community Family Service budgeting advisor Milton David says more people in the 'working poor' category are seeking financial help. Photo / Jenny Ling

A report commissioned by the Human Rights Commission and published in November found more than 50,000 working households in New Zealand – 7 per cent - live in poverty.

Northland and Gisborne had the highest rates of in-work poverty at 10.2 and 9.3 per cent, respectively.

The median income for Northland wage and salary earners is $959 per week, which lags behind the national average of $1019 per week, according to the latest figures from Statistics New Zealand.

For all working-age people in Northland, including those on benefits, the median weekly income drops to $512 per week.

Budgeting national entity FinCap, which was set up in 2017 to provide support to the country's budgeting and financial capability sector, said traditionally those seeking budgeting support were WINZ clients.

But there are now more working people using the services, spokeswoman Soraiya Daud said.

One reason is the shift to "casualised" work, where employees are put on temporary or casual contracts or expected to contract or sub-contract.

This, combined with increased living costs and higher rents, is putting a financial strain on workers, she said.

Better employment rights, affordable housing stock and better support are needed to "recognise people do need regular income and they do need to live reasonable lives", she said.

FinCap spokeswoman Soraiya Daud says the shift to
FinCap spokeswoman Soraiya Daud says the shift to "casualised" work is putting a strain on employees. Photo / supplied

"In places like Northland which might have been affordable in the past, rents are getting up there and they take up a significant amount of people's income. These factors working together are major issues."

The median house price in Northland in December $539,000 while the average rental is $401 per week.

Closing the Gap spokesman Peter Malcolm said the working poor in New Zealand is "a disgrace".

For people on a minimum or low wage, even with two incomes, it's not enough to live on, he said.

"You've only got to look at what's happening to prices in the supermarket. For a packet of chops you're talking about $2 to $3 for each chop. For the cheapest sausages you're paying $7 for a pack of six. It doesn't equate to enough to live on. That's the bottom line."

The minimum wage increased from $16.50 to $17.70 in April 2019 and will rise to $18.90 an hour from April 1.

Malcolm said employers should be paying "at least" the living wage, which currently sits at $21.15.

"That's the difference between poverty and being able to live with the basics," he said.

"It doesn't cost jobs to put up wages. It does good things for the economy because it puts more money in the hands of the people who need to spend more. Many businesses can afford to pay more than they do now."

Malcolm said the gap between the wealthy and working poor is huge.

"When you look at the lifestyles many in New Zealand can enjoy it's appalling when we've got 170,000 kids in poverty and the working poor. That indicates a severe imbalance in the way the economy in society is managed."

Janeane said the family recently came out of bankruptcy and are now renting in Kerikeri and living within their means.

Though she's unsure whether home ownership will be on the cards in future, she's happier and more content with life, and encourages others with financial problems to seek help.

"I just don't want to see people end up in the same boat."