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Queenstown Lakes District Faces Unprecedented Welfare Crisis

The Queenstown Lakes District is potentially facing an unprecedented welfare crisis with thousands of people requesting support. These include migrant workers, many of whom will be essential to the district’s economic recovery, who are currently ineligible for financial support through national channels.

The district’s Council-led Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has so far received more than 5,000 requests for welfare assistance from members of the community facing significant hardship due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Aotearoa New Zealand residents and citizens are eligible for various benefits from the Ministry of Social Development, some workers from overseas cannot access this support and are now living under lockdown with no form of income but still needing to find rent, pay bills and buy food.

Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult said the scale of the challenge dwarfed anything experienced before at a local level, and was unparalleled across the country during the pandemic.

“It’s almost too big to comprehend but at the Council we are rolling our sleeves up and doing everything we can to support our community,” he said.

“Huge thanks to our EOC welfare team who have left the familiarity of their day jobs to work long hours creating an effective response structure in a matter of days. While they have been working on the front line I have been speaking regularly with central government to emphasise the importance of supporting our migrant workers who will be essential to our ultimate recovery and the future diversification of our economy.”

“These discussions have delivered significant progress in assisting the district’s immigrant workforce, even within the last 24 hours, but there is much more to be done over the coming weeks and months,” said Mayor Boult.

“We rely on these people who often go unheralded. They are the baristas, chefs, shop assistants and cleaners that power our economic engine year in, year out. But more importantly they are a part of our community. It’s distressing to hear that so many of them are currently under severe financial stress without the support of family and friends close by. They need our help now.”

EOC Duty Controller Tony Avery said the welfare team was supported by more than 60 volunteers and was working closely with local agencies.

“Hats off to our amazing volunteers who collectively make around 400 phone calls each day to people who have registered for help through our online system.”

“A primary focus is to assess requests from those most at need and then work collaboratively with our local social service partners such as Central Lakes Family Services, Community Networks Wanaka, Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Southern District Health Board to direct people to the appropriate mental health and social support, and provide urgent assistance to those in genuine need with food parcels and grocery vouchers,” said Mr Avery.

“Grocery vouchers are only for those with limited or no income during this difficult time so please think carefully about your ability to cope before contacting us. Our registration process is designed to minimise the potential of people abusing the system with all requests thoroughly screened. The assistance we provide has to remain solely for people struggling to keep their head above water.”

Details around QLDC’s response to COVID-19 and information about how to get urgent assistance (including mental health resources) can be found here: https://www.qldc.govt.nz/covid-19

A region-wide help centre is also available from Otago Civil Defence on 0800 322 4000.

You can find more information about COVID-19 on the New Zealand Government’s website here: https://covid19.govt.nz/

Additional welfare resources are available locally as follows:

· Queenstown Salvation Army Community Ministries – 03 442 9661 https://www.salvationarmy.org.nz/

· Community Networks Wanaka – 03 443 7799 http://communitynetworks.co.nz/

· Central Lakes Family Services (Queenstown & Wānaka) – 0508 440 255 https://www.clfs.co.nz/

· Southern District Health Board – 0800 358 5453 https://www.southernhealth.nz/

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