More solo parents are needing long-term support payments in Rotorua than any other Ministry of Development service area in the country, new figures show. Samantha Olley finds out how many people have been getting sole parent support payments in Rotorua for more than a year and what support is there for them. Plus she talks to a solo parent about what life was like on the benefit and the challenges it brought.
For Rena Huriwai, the hardest part about being solo parent relying on Ministry of Social Development support was thinking about the following weeks.
Huriwai has two daughters in their early teens and received sole parent support payments between 2014 and 2016 before she started studying.
Ministry figures show more solo parents are needing long-term support in Rotorua than any other Ministry of Development service area in the country.
The figures show an average of 1368 clients received the payments in Rotorua, for more than a year, between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2019. The payments are for single parents whose youngest dependent child is under 14 years old.
The next closest averages nationwide were 1331 in Waitākere and 1232 in Manurewa.
In Bay of Plenty, demand in Rotorua was three times higher than the next highest average of 412 in Whakatāne, followed by 411 in Tokoroa and 396 in Tauranga.
Huriwai was not alarmed by the numbers.
"I think it's about knowing what's available to you. I am the type of person who goes out and finds out what I am entitled to."
She told the Rotorua Daily Post the hardest part about solo parent payments was "thinking about the following weeks" but she always made sure her children had everything they needed.
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"The number one priority is paying bills, such as rent and power, then food. You don't have a lot to work with."
Huriwai is studying to be a counsellor but has also completed a diploma in Māori Governance and Business since 2016.
"I study full time - day and night, as well as doing voluntary work with Love Soup and part-time work."
She receives a student allowance and financial support to raise her children as part of that.
"Some people struggle. There is often a lot of issues involved, like depression. But that doesn't mean you can't get up and keep doing better, through study or work or whatever."
The Ministry of Social Development's latest figures revealed in the quarter to June 2019 a total of 1796 clients received sole parent support payments from the Rotorua office.
The next closest nationwide was 1578 in Manurewa. Nationwide 59,263 received the payments in the June quarter.
Dee Horne works as a navigator for unemployed solo parents in temporary accommodation in Rotorua.
She said relying on a single income was just one of the "huge challenges" of raising children alone.
She said a lot of solo parents struggled with "consistency".
"They haven't got another person to back them up. Their parenting style is often what we call a 'jellyfish parent' where they often have to just do what is easiest."
Some referrals come from Tipu Ora and Family First, but most come from Rotorua's homeless shelter, Visions of a Helping Hand.
"A lot of the parents are coming in crisis mode and are not in the headspace for looking ahead at how to get better at finding work, cooking, etc, or to cope with the info to take in."
She normally takes them through a course called Building Awesome Whānau.
Since April, she had worked with 26 solo parents.
Rotorua Budget Service manager Pakanui Tuhura said in the year to June, 29 per cent of the 559 clients who made appointments with the service were solo parents.
He said just like many couples with children, solo parents relied on families to lend a hand.
"The challenge is always about how many supportive whānau members are local and what arrangements they have set up."
Rotorua Parents Centre playgroup members said solo parents could find it intimidating to join a playgroup, but they found the environment at the centre easygoing.
One solo parent said it was important for solo parents to connect and find positive support networks.
"It's definitely hard to get out there but just trying out new groups can lead to great friendships and support."
The Ministry of Social Development's regional commissioner Mike Bryant said the number of people getting sole parent support in Rotorua was a long-standing trend, and the reasons varied from individual to individual.
"We work with people across all benefit types, with very different circumstances and capabilities, and make a plan to suit their individual situations."
Bryant said the ministry supported people to upskill and retrain so they could enhance their skills and knowledge and connect back to the workforce.
The ministry works with Employ NZ, an employment placement service in Taupō, Tauranga and Rotorua, to help clients with things such as a driver's licence, CV and interview techniques.
"The courses have really great hours that suit sole parents, and tutors are always happy to work alongside sole parents in a way that suits their own personal goals and aspirations."
It also works with the Accor Hotel group offering on-the-job training.
"The employers involved are committed to working with sole parents around their family's needs to ensure they're supported into sustainable employment."
Opposition spokeswoman for social development, Louise Upston, said it was worth noting that there was just one ministry service centre in Rotorua, "whereas somewhere like Hamilton, with just over twice the population, has five service centres".
She said it was concerning so many children were living in households dependent on the benefit.