The readily accessible supply of alcohol in our communities undermines the ability of people to make healthy choices both for themselves and their families. The uncertainties of income, work and relationships, make life very challenging for many people. These social issues, combined with the pervasive marketing of alcohol, often portrayed as aready escape from life’s challenges, presents a toxic mix for people experiencing the greatest vulnerability.
Poverty Action Waikato is working alongside Alcohol Action Waikato, and Anglican Action’s Social Justice Centre to advocate for the reduction of alcohol supply in Hamilton City. Local bodies are responsible for the developmentof local alcohol policies. These policies present an opportunity for reducing alcohol supply in times of increasing social vulnerability. Poverty Action Waikato is facilitating an interagency meeting focused on reducing Hamilton City’s liquor supply on the 9thApril 2013.
Access to affordable housing that is effectively insulated and heated and is of adequate size has become compromised for many people living in the Waikato. High housing costs and poor quality housing are associated with overcrowding and a range of health difficulties such as asthma, rheumatic fever.
The costs associated with housing have increased markedly over the last 20 years. Since the turn of the century, for example, the median house price in Hamilton City has increased by over 66 percent. Along with the overall rise in house prices throughout the region there has conversely been a decrease in the rates of home ownership. Household incomes have fallen behind accommodation costs, so the proportion of income that low to medium households need to spend to meet accommodation costs is now greater.
The bulk of social or assisted housing is provided by Central government through Housing New Zealand (HNZC). Most local bodies in the Waikato, such as the Hamilton City Council provide some social housing – generally for older people living with low incomes. The stock of social housing in New Zealand is generally aging and some of it is of poor quality and is vulnerable to being deemed ‘not fit for purpose’.
In 2012, Poverty Action Waikato successfully campaigned with Waikato church leaders to ensure that Hamilton City Council maintained the majority of its pensioner housing.
There is a real need for more social and affordable housing in our communities and the government has set up the Social Housing Unit as a funding body to support the building of new and affordable housing in the private or social service sectors. However, there is a marked shortage of housing in New Zealand with a gap between population and price increases and a falling number of houses being built. This gap is particularly noticeable in Auckland and there is a flow-on effect in the Waikato.
Church communities often have access to tracts of land potentially suitable for social housing. The location of social housing with and alongside a church communitythat is resourced and inspired to provide both social and community support presents an exciting opportunity for meeting the needs of people most impacted by the lack of affordable housing. Poverty Action Waikato is workingwith Anglican Action to encourage and support churches in responding to the crises of affordable housing. They are currently working with the Chartwell Co-operating Parish to explore the use of their land adjacent to Bankwood Park.
Poverty Action Waikato also participates in Hamilton City Interagency homelessness meetings and the Accessible Housing for All group facilitated by Hamilton City Council.
Many people living in the Waikato struggle to access a healthy balanced diet. High housing costs reduce the amount of disposable income people have to spend on food, clothing, transport and other necessities. The skills of basic cooking and gardening are no longer common place. Further, the price and convenience of packaged and processed foods, pervasively marketing by the food industry, encourages these as foods of choice.
The lack of security people experience in being able to access nutritious food has devastating consequences for our communities, including children. Poverty Action Waikato has identified that approximately one quarter of children in decile 1 and 2 primary schools throughout the Waikato region are coming to schools with some degree of food need.
Foodbanks and other food charities throughout the region report an increasing demand for their services, indicating a concerning degree of desperation. Along with documenting stories and experiences of poverty, Poverty Action Waikato is dedicated to telling stories of hope and social change that demonstrate people’s resilience and ability to create supportive and strong communities.
Many schools throughout the region are proactively responding to the issue of food insecurity, with some engaging the whole school community to ensure that their children are well nourished and learning the skills of food provision. Community gardens are increasingly popular, contributing to food security and bolstering community relationships and the ability of communities to identify and respond to the issues affecting them.
Poverty Action Waikato supports and advocates community action that reduces vulnerability. Together with the Hamilton Council of Christian Social Services and other organizations, Poverty Action Waikato is supporting the development of the Waikato community and school gardens network and is currently maintaining a database of Waikato community gardens. Poverty Action Waikato is also working alongside Anglican Action to explore the development of local food co-ops and supports the Conscious Consumers food rescue initiative.