Advocate warns poor likely to be hit harder by this COVID-19 lockdown than first

A child poverty advocate is warning this COVID-19 lockdown is likely to hit New Zealand's poorest families harder than the last. 

Child Poverty Action Group spokesperson Janet McAllister told Newshub many families are still trying to recover from the previous lockdown which depleted people's savings. 

"Families have now been dealing with the fallout of more than a year of pandemic already, meaning savings are down and debt is up. 

"People were hurting already before this lockdown, any financial reserves families had early last year might have been used up in previous lockdowns and of course, in Auckland, this is our fourth lockdown at level three or four," she said. 

McAllister said the Government needs to raise income support and hardship assistance immediately to ensure poor families can do their part and lock down.

"MSD has recorded that debt to MSD grew at record levels over this past year and that's because benefit levels aren't enough to pay usual bills and of course the less income you have the harder it is to pay back debt due to those unexpected bills. 

"Last year's lockdowns weren't just a blip for many, they're still being paid off for some and probably will be for some time yet."

And record-high inflation and price increases for essentials is also putting pressure on poor families, she said. 

"Prices have also been going up over the past year, recently dramatically, particularly food and rent. 

McAllister is calling on the Government to ensure families have the support they need, as anecdotal reports suggest it's harder to access assistance this lockdown than last. 

"We are particularly concerned about this lockdown [because] there are reports it's harder to access Government hardship assistance in this lockdown than it was in the initial lockdown.  

"We need to see the same and better lockdown principles applied to people trying to get hardship assistance that they desperately need, we need to see the same or better rules that applied in the first lockdown apply now."

She said the Government needs to reassure families struggling with poverty they will be looked after during the lockdown. 

"People need confidence in the system that it will be there for them."

"We can't overlook those who are already in the scary situation of not having enough already or not knowing if that next paycheck will come in." 

The wage subsidy is available for businesses, freelancers or self-employed people who have - or expect to have - at least 40 percent revenue loss as a result of the move to COVID-19 level 4 lockdown.

There are also grants available through work and income for people who have lost their jobs or income however, many advocates say they aren't enough.