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Human Poverty in NZ – it’s no joke!

Human Poverty in NZ – it’s no joke!

Today was April Fools’ Day, many children (of all ages!) are running round playing silly practical jokes on others – I guess people have to find fun in their life where they can.

Some of our clients, living in poverty, struggle to see humour in a life so deprived. So many people in Christchurch are still living with the results of Earthquakes with no end in sight for resolving this. Some residents are also suffering from effects of other disasters like flooding (and there are different types of problems all over New Zealand!) All this stress and work is on top of not being able to afford the basics in life that the rest of us take for granted. Imagine having to choose whether to buy your children’s medicine or to buy them healthy food. Should you take money from the rent to do that this week? But you won’t be able to pay it back next week, and do you really want to risk eviction?! All possible solutions come with some kind of unacceptable consequences. Rental accommodations have gone up on average, post-Earthquake, by about 25%. This means that if you were paying $300 for a house, you will now be paying $375, WITH NO MORE MONEY.

A Simple Example:
A single parent with two teenage children and a 10-year-old could receive: Sole Parent Support (was DPB) 295, Accommodation Supplement 120 (maximum for family type), Family Support* 238; total = $653

(*Family Tax Credits 101 + 73 +64 for two teenagers (16 & 14 yrs) & one 10-yr-old)

Rent in Chch for an average 3 bedroom house would be at least $400/w at present, Power >40/w and phone 25/w. This leaves 163 for food, clothes, presents, replacing consumables, etc when they would need ~$300 just for their basic food costs (according to the University of Otago Food Cost Survey shown below). We would estimate that clothes and presents could easily come to $10/week. Even if the family received some Temporary Additional Support (TAS) they would still not have enough for all their essential costs each week! From this simple example you can see that for many people, Benefit levels are not sufficient for basic essential costs. (Example has a deficit of $122/week!)

The figures below (from: http://www.otago.ac.nz/humannutrition/research/food-cost-survey/otago057919.html) represent average figures for BASIC food costs (in Christchurch city, food is more expensive away from cheaper supermarkets), not luxuries or special dietary needs (which can also involve extra travel).

Man: 66
Woman: 62
Adolescent Boy: 83
Adolescent Girl: 69
10 yr old: 55
5 yr old: 36
4 yr old: 34
1 yr old: 30
Non-food items: 30-40

Why being poor is so expensive

We cannot hope to do a complete and thorough examination of this phenomenon but hope to illustrate some examples to help people understand this issue. Some instances include:

• Not being able to take advantage of deals and specials at supermarkets; not being able to stock up on food when it is cheap

• Not being able to take advantage of good supermarket petrol coupons (e.g. 20c or 30c/L off) because there is not enough money for petrol (e.g. after you have bought the groceries) before they expire

• Having to buy cheap clothing and shoes that do not last as long. Eg shoes that cost three times as much may last five or ten times as long; clothes may not last until the child grows out of them – good quality clothing often lasts for several children

• When you can’t pay power bills on time, you miss the 10% discount

• If you don’t pay a fine, the amount increases. Often the option of paying things off does not happen until it has been increased a number of times and referred to a collection agency

• Rental accommodation that is affordable is sometimes not an ideal environment to live in. This means that there could be increasingly occurring health problems in the family requiring doctor’s visits

• Many people struggling to afford all their basic essential costs cannot afford some other bill that comes out of the blue (often a car cost, see below, but may be a blown up fridge or other essential, a vet bill, etc).

• Sometimes people resort to a credit card (if they are able to get one) or a credit agency. These have high interest rates that will only increase debt as it is unlikely the person can afford to repay even the principle. Generally the only people who lend to beneficiaries have exorbitant interest rates

• Cheaper cars will often require maintenance / replacement of items. These often come at unexpected or inconvenient times

• If someone is receiving Working For Families as they work over 20 hours/week, it is possible this will stop over the Christmas break if they are unable to work during this period. This is often a time of year when people require more funds.

So by all means, have a laugh in your life if you can, but remember those less fortunate than you and see what you can do to change the world for the better.

Beneficiary Advisory Service is a Christchurch based Community Group who help people on benefits and low incomes with their problems with Work and Income. We are specialists in Welfare Law and provide advice, information, support and advocacy to hundreds of people every year. Visit our website at www.bas.org.nz


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