Coronavirus: Confronting graphs show COVID-19's social impact on New Zealand

Coronavirus: Confronting graphs show COVID-19's social impact on New Zealand
Photo credit: Getty Images

Confronting graphs are beginning to paint the picture of COVID-19's social impact on New Zealand.

The Salvation Army's Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit released its COVID-19 Social Impact report on Thursday.

"This fortnightly COVID-19 Social Impact Dashboard is an offering from The Salvation Army to try and record the outcomes of the new social realities in our nation, but particularly for poorer, vulnerable Kiwi facing serious hardship in this new normal," the report begins.

The Salvation Army's lawyer and principal social policy analyst, Ronji Tanielu, told Newshub existing cracks in New Zealand's social welfare have been magnified by the COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown.

"Some of New Zealand's social challenges have been magnified as we've gone through lockdown. We've had reports from tenants and frontline workers of real anxiety and fear. Some of the existing cracks in our social wellbeing have been magnified," he said.

"We've seen a significant increase in the uptake of food parcels, we've seen some reports of challenges around addiction issues, housing stress, financial hardship... there are multiple issues coming out of this lockdown."

The food security graph shows a significant increase in the number of food parcels handed out to struggling families. According to the report, the demand for food parcels is estimated to have risen by a third, with spikes in Auckland, Northland and Christchurch, in the week to March 27, 2020. In the week to April 3, the Northern Region handed out roughly 1300 food parcels - double the average for this time of year. 

Coronavirus: Confronting graphs show COVID-19's social impact on New Zealand
Photo credit: Salvation Army.
Coronavirus: Confronting graphs show COVID-19's social impact on New Zealand
Photo credit: Salvation Army.

Tanielu says the number of individuals involved in The Salvation Army's Addiction, Supportive Accommodation & Reintegration Services (ASARS) has remained relatively constant since pre-lockdown.

"Our client base sits at roughly 2000 people across the country, that's about 1500 in the community and about 500 [in our residential services]," he explained.

"The challenges we're finding is one, the referrals from DHBs and making sure there is a consistent referral basis, and secondly, we've had reports from our frontline workers of the potential for an increase in family harm, as people are spending more time at home and also are isolating from [addictive substances]."

The report notes that despite increased tension for some families during lockdown, there has been good uptake of alcohol and drug treatment support through remote phone contact for many existing clients. 

Coronavirus: Confronting graphs show COVID-19's social impact on New Zealand
Photo credit: Salvation Army.

Tanielu says it's hard to paint an accurate picture of COVID-19's impact on housing as the Government is yet to release up-to-date figures. In January 2020, 15,235 people were on the Social Housing Register nationwide, compared to 14,869 in December 2019. 

"It's hard to get figures on those in hotels, emergency housing, and transitional housing - the best we can do is publish figures from January 2020. There has been an increase in people using transitional housing services. The tenants we've been able to house have reported increased stress and anxiety," he explained.

"Around 95 percent of our tenants are beneficiaries. There's real stress as people can't access Government help and don't have access to the internet or have low mobile credit, making it difficult to access help."

The report acknowledges that up-to-date data is needed to accurately determine the impact on New Zealand's most vulnerable, suggesting lockdown rent holidays as a measure to reduce tenants' financial hardship.

Coronavirus: Confronting graphs show COVID-19's social impact on New Zealand
Photo credit: Salvation Army.

On the positive, Tanielu thanked New Zealanders for their generosity amid the crisis, with more than $850,000 raised through corporate and public donations to support The Salvation Army's Food Bank Project as of April 1.

"In the midst of the turmoil, there's some amazing generosity coming through Kiwis... which will be [used to help] those who are struggling." 

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz