The Hikoi Revisited
It is now two years since the Hikoi of Hope passed through Palmerston North and on to Wellington.
In Palmerston North. over 3000 people gathered in the Square to protest the level of poverty and the lack of real jobs, poor access to health care, high student fees and market rents for state houses.
Two years later we need to ask, what has changed?
Very little in my opinion as spokes person for the Palmerston North Poverty Action Group that grew out of the local Hikoi organising committee. People still find it hard to believe that half the people in Palmerston North live below the unofficial poverty line, qualifying for the Community Services Card.
The job market is getting worse, businesses leaving town, downsizing and restructuring - shedding jobs all the way. Many jobs are now casual and poorly paid - not enough to live on.
As poverty bites deeper, the health of people is deteriorating further - eyesight, hearing and teeth that cannot be maintained as remedial treatment can't be afforded. Phones are cut off increasing isolation. With substantial increases in petrol prices, using the car is out. And now food price increases are expected.
We hear of people falling through the floor in their Housing NZ house.
More and more we hear of discrimination and targeting of people on low incomes.
While the rents for state houses are to be reduced, that has still to happen and it will take some time for the effects of the rent change to follow through. In the meantime, many state houses have been sold.
While the interest on student loans has been reduced, the high fees still mean that more people are being excluded from tertiary education. This has apparently driven the staff cuts at Massey which will result in even fewer students and so on.
While we hear of changes in attitudes to some people seeking assistance from the Department of Work and Income, the evidence is mounting of a deep culture of denying access to assistance and growing evidence of people not getting their legitimate entitlements.
While we have a new government that pledged to do something about several of these issues, we have yet to see much if anything by way of results. Time will tell, and we will all be the judge.
Ritchie FEILDING R D 7 ph / fax 06 3289 618
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