It was during a visit to the Work and Income offices in Whanganui's St Hill Street that I started musing on the disintegration of what is often fondly referred to as "the traditional family".

Solo parents, beneficiaries, grandparents having to raise grandkids - despite the smart new offices, there was an air of desperation about the place.

I recommend it as a salutary experience.

I'm not sure if the traditional family was as stable, as wonderful or as all-pervasive as we have been led to believe, but it is certainly under pressure now following the huge societal shifts of the past, say, 50 years.


Once it was just the men clearing off; now it seems as likely to be the mothers and wives.
Couples stuck together because there was no alternative; now the alternatives are the norm.

Perhaps people's expectations are that much greater, and disillusionment sets in that much more readily.

There are those - Family First, the Conservative Party - who think they can turn back the clock. They seem like King Canute at the water's edge commanding the tide to go back.

So we have to manage the fallout, and for that we need organisations like Jigsaw Whanganui which works to provide some security, stability and some hope for families under stress.

Jigsaw is running a Medieval Feast fundraiser tomorrow night. It relies on the generosity of the community ... it needs the money.

Like a number of important local services, it is only partially funded by central government.

Jigsaw Whanganui executive officer Tim Metcalfe reckons more than $750,000 worth of government local capacity - that is front line social service work - has been withdrawn from district over the past four years.

"These are the people you used to be able to go to for day-to-day support. Many of these are services have taken years to build up their skills and competence," he says.

There is a feeling that a burgeoning bureaucracy and increasing compliance requirements are sucking up too much of the resource.

The reality is the social problems are not going away anytime soon, and that means the fundraising will continue and the local community will be needed to hold things together.