Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NZ Poverty Not A Lifestyle Choice, Poor Families Can’t Even Afford Basics

 In February we wrote about John Key’s comments when asked about poverty and food banks in New Zealand, i.e. that beneficiaries who resort to food banks do so out of their own “poor choices” rather than because they cannot afford food.

This may be of interest to you if you are considering emigrating to New Zealand because its a great place to raise kids and you think that you can manage on the lower salary you are being offered. Or you may be living in New Zealand now and struggling to make ends meet and resent being told that its your fault for making’ poor lifestyle choices’

John Key said
“But it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills. “And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.”
But rising food prices mean that New Zealand is a country where it is now cheaper to buy cola than milk and where obesity has reached epidemic proportions. Read the blog here 

Published research from the University of Auckland, which  shows that low income families in New Zealand can’t afford to buy basic nutritious food for their children, is now being used by the Child Poverty Action Group to call for more support for families in New Zealand. The results of poor nutrition is being seen in New Zealand’s hospitals every day.

It may surprise Mr Key to learn that The highest cost for families is rent, then electricity, transport and education. Its far more than not being able to budget properly, its about having money left after the basic essentials for life have been met to afford luxuries like healthy food.
From Voxy
Nutritious Food Too Costly For The Poorest Families
“Latest research from the University of Auckland supports recent claims that many low-income families are unable to afford even a basic nutritious diet for their children. A paper published in Nutrition and Dietetics in December 2010 found that low-income families may not be able to afford meals recommended by the national nutritional guidelines, especially if there are teenagers in the household whose meals cost a lot more.
In response to the findings Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is calling on the Government to increase support for families so they are able to provide nutritious food to their children.
Professor Asher says, “In reality, rent is the highest cost faced by most families, closely followed by unavoidable expenses such as electricity, transport and school-related costs. This leaves little for a good diet, especially for older children who eat so much more.
Nutritious food for children is beyond the reach of many low-income families, especially those thousands of families ineligible for the full Working for Families package. This study clearly highlights that using food banks and purchasing cheap poor-quality food is not always a matter of choice. “
CPAG is calling on the Government to help all families better afford nutritious food by extending the In-Work Tax credit to all low-income families. The cost of basic food items have increased over the last year, exemplified by the rise in milk price – 9%. “We see the outcome of poor children’s nutrition in our hospitals every day. This problem can’t be solved just by budgeting, and will not go away through magical thinking.”
Spokesperson Professor Innes Asher 021492262″
Kiwi youth already suffer some of the worst health outcomes in the developed world. New Zealand’s young people have higher rates of mental illness, suicide, teen pregnancy and suffered more injuries than young people in other OECD countrie. (source)

“New Zealand’s children suffer not only a higher rate of hardship than other New Zealanders, but a greater share of New Zealand’s children face hardship than in many other countries. New Zealand’s older population faces a low rate of hardship relative to the other New Zealand age groups and relative to the same age groups in other countries. Having about one out of every five children facing hardship is a situation that must be improved.  The comparison to other countries shows that New Zealand is unusual in choosing to impose such a burden on the youngest segment of the population.” Source NZ Institute’s report NZ Ahead.

With regards to third world diseases NZ has 14 times the average OECD rate of rheumatic fever,  five to 10 times the rate of whooping cough and pneumonia compared with the United Kingdom and United States,  and four to six times the rate of child maltreatment compared with the best countries.

Household crowding is partly blamed for New Zealand having one of the highest rates of acute rheumatic fever (ARF) among children and teenagers in the developed world.The infectious disease, which can cause chronic rheumatic heart disease through damaged heart valves, is responsible for more than 120 deaths a year.

This is what Rahui Katene, MP for Te Tai Tonga had to say about how poverty is affecting children in New Zealand. No’ lifestyle choices’ here, just hard living in grinding poverty.

In 2010; 2000 more children were admitted to hospital with poverty-related illnesses than during 2007-08
What seems to have slipped below the radar is the fact that a crisis is occurring in our hospital admissions.
That’s the fact that medical conditions which occur more frequently for children living in poverty have been increasing over recent years – particularly for Maori and Pasifika children.  Or that close to 250,000 children are living in homes reliant on the benefit for income.
My colleague, Te Ururoa Flavell, last night spelt out some of the consequences of families living in severe or significant hardship.  Families who go without fruit and vegetables; who put up with the cold to save on heating costs; who delay going to the doctor of the dentist, or live in cramped conditions, who tell their children that the opportunity to go on a school trip or play sport is a privilege which they can ill afford.
Is this a nation fit for our tamariki?  We need to heed the research which shows us there can be a different life for our babies, if we make it a priority.
Last year I spoke at the launching in Dunedin of the New Zealand Children’s Social Health Monitor Report 2010.  That report revealed the inevitable, that economic recessions have affected children’s health in other countries. And we saw research indicating the close correlation between recessions and high hospitalisations in New Zealand.
However, it also reported on the experience of Sweden in the 1990s where, despite large numbers of children living in low income families, there were no significant increases in childhood hospitalisations for poverty-related illnesses.
I noted that in 2010; 2000 more children were admitted to hospital with poverty-related illnesses than during 2007-08.
We’re talking about admissions for respiratory problems, infectious diseases, and other conditions with links to poor housing and economic hardship –all diseases of poverty which could have been prevented if children were taken to see a doctor earlier.
The Prime Minister said yesterday, when talking about these very children – the children who suffer the consequences of long term dependency – that “the Government is not prepared to leave those people behind”.  That was welcome news for the Maori Party.
But statements are at risk of becoming platitudes without a plan in place.  Slogans and placards are great for the camera, but where is the strategy to put the words into action?…
She went on to call for seven simple solutions to support children, whanau and families:
• We will set a deadline to eliminate child poverty by 2020;

• We will designate an official poverty line at 60 percent of the median household disposable income after housing costs and set net income for those on benefits at this measure to prevent poverty.

• We will increase minimum wage to at least $15 an hour.

• We will raise core benefit levels, including superannuation, veteran’s pensions.

• We will simplify Working for Families including extending the ‘in-work’ payment to all families.

• We will investigate the reintroduction of a Universal Child Benefit ;

• We will establish a ‘Neighbourhood Renewal’ Fund, which may include incentives to encourage living more collectively, eg community gardens, afterschool care, post-natal support for parents.

You may also find interesting:

1. Our other blogs:
“NZ: 100% Pure Rip-Off” (July 2010)
NZ’s Poverty Gap – Fat Cats Feast Whilst Queues Form For Bread And Jam (July 2010)
Immigrants Caught In Cold Poverty Trap (July 2010)
Ministerial Credit Card Rort (June 2010)
Family Gets $200,000 Bill For House Fire (July 2010)
2. And these external sites:
Wealth gap divides nation
“ACCUSATIONS THAT New Zealand is one of the worst performers in the developed world when it comes to the income gap between rich and poor have been validated by a Sunday Star-Times survey.
Conducted by Horizon Research, it shows the burgeoning gap between the haves and have-nots is frothing over into resentment, anger and disillusionment….”
Key: Poverty is your fault
“John Key says if you’re having trouble getting by on your income it’s due to your ‘lifestyle choices‘. Key has given himself at least $23,000 in tax cuts and had a $7,500 rise on our borrowed money. He has the worst economic record of any PM in 80 years: 86,000 more jobless Kiwis and falling incomes. And this bastard blames Kiwi families for their poverty…”
Families feel the pinch
Palmerston North families, many of them in paid work, are reaching out to food banks and budgeting advisers in growing numbers as new year bills and price rises tip them into crisis… Salvation Army community ministries manager Kevin Richards said there was no doubt more people were finding it harder to feed their families. In January, it faced a 25 per cent increase in customers compared to January a year ago, with 40 to 50 new clients each month. “Most are people who have never used us before. It’s a huge growth in demand, and it continues to grow.”
As well as about 180 people needing food parcels each month, the number of people looking for assistance with clothing, bedding and household goods had doubled to about 200 in six months.
Some were in work, but 99 per cent were beneficiaries.
Banks face downgrade
“The big banks look set to lose their prized Aa2 credit ratings after ratings agency Moody’s Investment Services said it was considering a downgrade of them.
The big four banks ANZ National, Bank of New Zealand, ASB Bank and Westpac all hold Aa2 rating for their long-term senior unsecured debt and deposits…”
Petrol prices highest since 2008
“Petrol prices are on the rise again, hitting their highest level for more than two years.
Overnight the price of a litre of 91 octane petrol rose 3c to $2.02 and 95 octane rose to $2.11…”
New Zealand: Unite takes on minimum wage
“In New Zealand, 100,000 workers live on the minimum wage of NZ$12.50 per hour, which is just 51% of the average wage.
Unite’s “campaign for a living wage” calls for the minimum wage to be immediately raised to $15 per hour. Then, it would be further increased in stages and set at two thirds of the average wage. The union is organising a petition drive, aiming for 300,000 signatures calling for a citizen’s initiated referendum by May 2010. If this is achieved, the government would be required to call a referendum on the demands within a year…”
Kiwis discuss Key’s comments online
“I know of two people on the sickness benefit due to recent circumstances completely out of their control. One receives $180 a week. She pays $150 a week rent, which includes power in a tiny granny flat. $10 a week is allowed for her cell phone because she has medical emergencies, so she is left with 20 a week for food. The other of those people also receives temporary assistance which takes her total up to $300 a week…in order to cover the mortgage payment. In her case, the mortgage, rates and house insurance is…you guessed it, $298 a week. She has $2 a week to cover her food, power, phone. Budget that, if you can.”
“WE are fortunate to be sort of middle income and I have to say that over the last 18 months despite tax breaks and pay increases we are about $80 – $100 a week WORSE off than we were with all the increases. We pare things down to the bone. Rarely have special treats or outings.I am a good experienced cook and we cook from scratch. I can’t imagine how a beneficiary would cope these days. Edit to add also a lot of beneficiaries are not on unemployment benefit.. they may be on sickness etc and have extra costs for medical care …”

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