Opinion: New Zealand still just making up lost ground in fight against poverty

Opinion: New Zealand still just making up lost ground in fight against poverty
Photo credit: Getty.

OPINION: It's starting to feel as though our country is taking the issue of poverty seriously, but the fight is far from over - we'll still see these families struggling to make ends meet for some time yet.

How do we keep moving in the right direction and ensure we are not giving with one hand and taking with the other? We've seen a recent increase in Working for Families payments but this doesn't match the increase in living, produce and energy costs families have faced over the last decade.

Also, while benefits go up in one area, they come down in another. We may be on the right road by having poverty on the agenda, but we are far from an ideal destination.

The Winter Energy Payment is a helpful boost and great for beneficiary families and senior citizens. However, it is not available to low income working families which is disappointing. These families are affected by increasingly expensive power bills and the boost in Working for Families payments is not enough to support those who need it most over the winter months.

We find many of our client families at The Salvation Army are trapped in a debt cycle that will take a long time to break. Some families that were working in deficit each week will now break even with the new Families Package.

Good, but is being able to tread water good enough?

Unfortunately, our low wage economy is still not helping us develop employment at a level where people are independent of government assistance. A recent survey we commissioned gave a snapshot of how New Zealanders are faring this winter.

Results showed 35 percent of 65+ year olds have gone without home heating in the last year due to the cost, less than the overall population at 45 percent. Some superannuants have donated their Winter Energy Payment to our Winter Appeal because they don't feel as though they need it.

It's going to take a community approach like this to lift people out of poverty – one that supports people who need more than what the government is making available and one that does not judge them for the situation they are living.

It is going to take some time to really measure the impact of the new package for families trapped in the poverty cycle. Welfare need is not going to disappear overnight, tomorrow or next month. The cost of living has increased over the last year, the cost of fruit and veggies went up 3.1 percent and energy costs have increased – all of this impacts families with fixed incomes.

We're taking steps in the right direction, but we need to run to make up for lost ground.

Pam Waugh is Head of Welfare Services for the Salvation Army.

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