It's no joke being financially hard up.

Ask anyone who is constantly short of money.

I'm not talking about self-inflicted hardship, meaning those who just spend what they get without any thought to budgeting and planning how they will manage their finances.

I'm referring to those who don't have enough money to cover their living expenses, no matter how hard they try. They can never make ends meet.

Advertisement

This now includes many working people.

In Washington years ago I first heard people classified as the working poor and the near poor. I hate these expressions. I thought at the time, "Thank goodness we don't categorise New Zealanders this way."

Well guess what - we got there in the end. It may have taken years but I see these very words appearing now in government documents.

But here's the problem. The working poor and the near poor are actually people, not some faceless beings. They live in our communities and struggle every day to provide for their families.

They are not lazy and I'm sure would love some respite from having to live in survival mode all the time.

Someone said to me recently, "These families can manage if they just put their mind to it."

My reaction was, "And what the hell would you know?"

Because he wouldn't know. Nobody walks in anyone else's shoes. Anyone who did might not be so quick to judge.

Advertisement

Ask the 40,000 households that had their power disconnected in the last 12 months. That's about the population of Taupo. Not some piddly little number of households but the equivalent of a whole town full.

The power companies, individually or as a collective, should take a long hard look at what these disconnections are telling us. And then pass this information on to the Minister of Energy, Simon Bridges. Or perhaps he should give them the directive. He wants the number of disconnections to come down drastically but if the recent past is any indicator the numbers will continue to rise.

Five years ago the number disconnected was 11,000. I would want to know how many of the 40,000 disconnections in the last 12 months are first-timers or are they all repeats?

If they're first-timers you can bet a good percentage will be working families. They have now joined the ranks of those who can't meet their living costs, including the power bill.

How many of the properties are rented? There'll be a mix of income levels but most households would be low income and with children. What months are showing up as the ones that families can't afford to pay? Winter months, I presume, but are there heavy disconnections in other months, too.

We can't afford to see this as just a matter of power disconnections. This is a strong signal that families are under immense pressure. If they are having difficulty paying their power bill, they will be straining to meet rent and mortgage payments, food costs and other household expenses.

In the long term we will all pay heavily if people do not have electricity in the home, particularly where there are young children. There will be all the health issues associated with poverty. These will cost the country millions of dollars.

Women's health issues are often overlooked when we talk of poverty and deprivation. Women themselves will put their own health needs on the backburner while they try to cater for the family. Family comes first. Their emotional and mental health often suffers.

It's the constant struggle to get through the week with limited money. They see nothing but stress ahead of them for months, possibly years. It will take its toll in the end.

And research has proven time and again that financial woes are the biggest factor in relationship breakdowns.

The data from the 40,000 disconnections should be analysed as soon as possible. These families are a time bomb waiting to happen.