"Crunchy and juicy" - that's how cockroaches were described as tasting by a starving 6-year-old boy, according to the agency that saved him from his impoverished home.

The desperate case of the Bay of Plenty child and his three siblings has been offered as a stark example of the degree of poverty in our communities.

And those in the non-government social sector say stories of extreme need are becoming more common as prices rise, incomes fail to match spending and tighter controls are applied to benefits.

Other support agencies tell of elderly people eating cat food, because the cost of food for human consumption has risen beyond their reach.

Homes of Hope director Hilary Price said the Bay of Plenty boy had told her how he and his siblings had eaten cockroaches.

"This little boy described to me that one day he had been so hungry he found some cockroaches and tried eating them.

"He said: 'They were crunchy and juicy'. He said he was very glad he didn't have to do that any more."

The boy and his siblings had been removed by Child Youth and Family from the home they shared with their mother about a year ago.

Price said they were underweight, had skin lesions and infections, wounds that had not been tended and nits and lice.

"They had to survive and they are survivors. In many ways that story would be mild," she said. "I'm horrified with what we see."

The agency received 50 per cent of its funding from the Government and the rest was raised through donations. Price said it cost about $30,000 a year to provide care for a child who had been removed from poor family situations.

"It seems madness not to invest $30,000 a year now so we're not paying $95,000 a year in [the Department of] Corrections when they are adults."

Mangere Budgeting Services Trust chief executive Daryl Evans said the service was under greater pressure than ever. There had been recent cases of impoverished pensioners eating cat food.

"People are getting desperate for food."

Evans said two staff members had resigned because of the pressure they were under.

Staff had gone from dealing with about 40 families each to dealing with about 260 in just a few months, he said.

Evans said food and petrol costs had increased but wages had failed to match needs. Government changes had also forced those applying for emergency grants to attend budgeting courses before getting any money, he said. "Working families are doing it really hard."

Monte Cecilia Housing Trust director David Zussman said a number of issues reflecting the pressure created by poverty were emerging in communities across Auckland.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett did not return calls for comment.

Outgoing Labour president Andrew Little said last night his party would ask the public at this year's election whether they were better off after three years under National. "People have a real concern about what is happening with incomes."


It's the most telegraphed ambush in town - but Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is wandering into it. Next Friday, she will meet Mangere Budgeting Services Trust boss Daryl Evans in Auckland.

Another 22 budgeting services from the upper North Island have also grabbed the chance to put their concerns to Bennett.

The meeting comes after repeated calls to Bennett's office, and one television broadcast in which Evans complained meetings were shifted and cancelled.

After the broadcast a firm date was set.