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Inequality keeps rising, says UC social research expert

Inequality keeps rising, says UC social research expert

December 26, 2013

Inequality continues to rise in New Zealand and many families will struggle to cope over the holidays, a University of Canterbury (UC) social research expert says.

Dr Annabel Taylor says research shows that reliance on voluntary help is not nearly enough to help families that are struggling.

"Foodbanks talk about the demand and the problem is that, in a low wage economy and a high comparative cost economy, people cannot keep up.

"In regards to social issues over this holiday break, families that social workers and human services are working with will be struggling and often when things are not going well for families/whanau it is harder for them at this time because people see the media portrayals of materialism and happiness at this time of year.

"This tends to bring into sharp focus the things a family cannot do for their children, for example, compared with many others.

"Recent research has highlighted the growing income divide in New Zealand which has been worsening and this has not been helped by housing shortages in the Christchurch area and the ongoing stress and anxiety of dealing with insurance companies and the Earthquake Commission.

"Some people have more resilience than others and more resources to call on but for those who are battling mental illness, gambling addiction and other disabilities the Christmas holidays can become a period to endure rather than celebrate.

"This is a time for communities to do as much as they can to support each other and to demonstrate the Christmas spirit in practical terms. There will be calls for volunteers and for contributions to be made to not-for-profits all over the country and people have come to rely on this support.

"This means that every dollar counts when given to food banks and the like. At the same time, we need to pause and ponder on what needs to be done to reduce inequalities in our communities."

"The problem with relying on well-meaning voluntary support is that it cannot possibly replace the population-based health, education and social support necessary to ensure healthy New Zealanders.

Violence continues to be the driving challenge for New Zealand communities with nearly half of all homicides in New Zealand resulting from family violence, Dr Taylor says.

On average 14 women, 6 men and 10 children are killed by a member of their family every year. Police recorded 86,545 family violence incidents and offences in 2008. Dr Taylor says violence in New Zealand is getting worse.

Police are called to around 200 family violence situations a day - one every seven minutes - and they estimate only 18 percent of family violence incidents are reported. At least 74,785 children and young people aged under 17 were present at family violence situations attended by police.

"The economic cost of family violence was estimated at $1.2 billion to $5.8 billion per year by economist Suzanne Snively in 1994. In today’s figures that would rise to $8 billion.

"We have the fifth worst child abuse record out of 31 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries with on average, one child killed every five weeks."

Dr Taylor is the Galpin Fellow at Quinnipiac University, in the United States, which is an international exchange programme that allows academics to collaborate. She will return to UC in March.

ENDS

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