'Rise of the working poor': One in five Kiwis can't afford Christmas

This year's festive season won't be so festive for many New Zealanders. 

One in five Kiwis say they can't afford to celebrate Christmas, a new survey commissioned by The Salvation Army has found. 

Around one in four New Zealanders will face hard times this festive season, with just under half saying it's a time of financial struggle, according to the survey of 1000 people aged over 18. 

Pam Waugh, head of Welfare Services at The Salvation Army, says the results speak to the "rise of the working poor", telling The AM Show it's a reflection of people living on fixed incomes who are struggling with increasing costs. 

"We're seeing a rise in low income workers - those on a fixed very low income who are struggling with rent, with power costs, with food, and all those general costs," she said, adding that those considered "working poor" are increasing. 

"We've got a fixed wage economy, and it's a low wage economy, and we've also got all those rising costs. If your income's fixed, you can't change that, but your rent's going up. Housing is an incredible cost on the people we work with."

New data from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) shows that rent has gone up $30 since the coalition Government came to power a year ago. Petrol prices also recently reached a 30-year high, although prices have since dropped slightly. 

The Families Package recently instated by the Government, designed to provide targeted social assistance to improve incomes for low and middle income families with children, is a "step in the right direction", The Salvation Army says. 

Some families receive around $75.  

But a lot of that extra money is being sucked up by petrol and rental costs, says Ms Waugh. If you've got $75 extra in your pocket, but it's costing you a further $30 to fill your car up and a further $30 a week on rent, you've got $15 left. 

"For a lot of families, the Families Package has helped them break even. You can imagine they were behind before, and now they're just managing to break even," she said. "We think it will take about a year to see the real impact as long as people stick to a plan."

"The other thing those people face is that the families we work with have a lot of debt built up over the last few years where they haven't been able to get on top of it.

"We've concentrated on trying to get that debt down by using this extra money you've got so that you're free and it also gives them a better credit record."

In 2017, 17,000 New Zealanders sought help with the basics of life from The Salvation Army in the lead up to Christmas. And this year the organisation expects it to be "just as bad" without significant public support. 

"It's pretty bleak and that's where we step in with our appeal," said Ms Waugh, referring to The Salvation Army's annual Christmas Appeal which launches on Monday, under the theme 'All I want for Christmas'. 

"Ten percent of people in the survey said they go without so their kids can celebrate Christmas," said Ms Waugh. 

"This is a time we should all be able to enjoy, yet we see people struggling to keep the lights on and put food on the table."