I see people every day who are left to make impossible choices.
Parents needing support from the Auckland City Mission's food security team after being unable to feed their family of four for the week with $30 left after unexpected car repair costs. People presenting at our low-cost Calder Health Centre with health conditions and illnesses directly caused by having little income. People who have lost access to housing and need our team's support to find a stable and secure home.
These are such impossible positions, driven by poverty, that the decisions people make stop being a real "choice".
I was appointed Auckland City Missioner last month after nearly a decade with the Mission. As Missioner, I am using my voice to call for an improvement to people's lives by lifting them out of poverty.
For generations, people have been facing the effects of inequity – and in increasing numbers.
People supported by the Mission have been living and breathing decades of under-investment in key public services like housing and income support by successive governments.
Many more people are now experiencing hardship due to Covid-19. It's showed us that, for many people, economic hardship is only a handful of adverse life events away.
Yet we have enough wealth in Aotearoa to meet everyone's basic needs. We know the value of looking out for each other as a community. We know it doesn't have to be like this.
Now we have a Budget on May 20 where the Government can release people from some of the strain I see every day. It is an opportunity for another way.
The "wellbeing approach" adopted by this Government, which will underpin the Budget, is about expanding meaningful choices for people. It's an approach the Mission supports. Wellbeing was defined in last year's Budget Policy Statement as "giving people the capabilities to live lives of purpose, balance and meaning to them".
A key step towards enabling people to make real and dignified choices would be for the Government to lift core benefit levels by a significant amount this Budget.
Unless significant changes are made, the issues we see every day will only become more widespread and intense.
Every person struggling to make ends meet has to use their creative energies to compensate for core benefit rates and wages too low for basic outgoing costs of rent, food and utilities.
This is time and energy that could be spent in so many other life-giving ways. It is exhausting and demoralising being poor and, day in day out, not having enough.
Lifting income support by a significant amount would make a difference to the health of many of these people in Aotearoa, to their access to housing and adequate, nutritious food and to their ability to contribute to society. It would make a positive difference to their wellbeing and the wellbeing of our nation.
It's also something that is increasingly popular - a poll in February showed 7 out of 10 New Zealanders backed increased income support.
We are heartened by some changes the Government has made: doubling the Winter Energy Payment for last winter; increasing abatement thresholds; and changing indexation so benefit levels are guided by average wage growth. These are all positive steps towards lifting people out of a cycle of poverty.
But a recent University of Auckland study showed this has only made a slight difference to people's lives. The scale of hardship is great, and there is much more work to be done.
Different people will have different views on what "a significant amount" is. In my view Aotearoa's core benefits should provide enough weekly income for people to live on. The $490 weekly Covid Income Relief Payment for full-time workers who lost their job during the pandemic is a good starting point.
That level of investment, compared to the little over $250 a week received by a single person over the age of 25 on Jobseeker Support, is a more realistic weekly income.
Economically this is possible. Where we spend our money shows what we value. Much of our history and indeed the last year has shown how important it is to value all of us.
The Government has already made a commitment to improving the wellbeing of all in Aotearoa, recognising that everyone deserves to live dignified lives, showing great leadership.
Honouring that commitment is another act of leadership. It's a real choice this Government can make at Budget time. I hope they'll make it.
• Helen Robinson is the Auckland City Missioner.