Petition calling on Government to wipe emergency housing debt to be delivered tomorrow
On Wednesday morning members of community campaigning group ActionStation will meet the Minister for Social Development Anne Tolley to present a petition calling on the Government to forgive debt incurred by people seeking emergency housing support from WINZ.
Following the meeting with the Minister, they will meet Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox, who has publicly supported this community petition, and ask her to continue to advocate for this issue in Parliament.
ActionStation member Kyle MacDonald launched the campaign last week after hearing a story on the radio of a young mother forced to go into thousands of dollars of debt to WINZ to pay for emergency housing for her and her children.
"Some things just grab you, and you can’t leave it alone,” says MacDonald, “For me hearing that people who have found themselves homeless have been offered emergency accommodation in a motel and then charged for it, was one of those things. It angered and deeply upset me. What would you do? Nowhere to live, small children, winter pounding on the door and this is the only option being offered. Of course you’re going to take it, even if that means agreeing to be thousands of dollars in debt with no idea how you’re going to pay it back. If it wasn’t WINZ we’d call it extortion.”
Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett has signalled that she does not agree with the current policy, and that from September people will no longer be required to pay back the costs of emergency housing. However, people would still have to repay the debt being incurred now.
“This would be a welcome change for vulnerable families,” says ActionStation spokesperson Marianne Elliott, “but it can’t wait until September. Between now and then lie the three coldest months of the year, and families won’t be able to survive in cars or uninsulated garages. In three months families who are already in dire straights will be forced to rack up tens of thousands more dollars in debt. If the Government cannot implement this change more urgently, then it needs to be made retroactive so that debts currently being racked up are also wiped.”
“It’s a tired cliché,” says MacDonald, “but as Mahatma Gandhi said: 'A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.' New Zealand has now become a nation that not only doesn’t care, but kicks people when they’re down. I believe we are so much better than this."