“We applaud the work of the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services in the launch of their final Vulnerability Report today. These reports have kept issues of poverty and the range of pressing issues that those living in poverty are facing at the forefront”, says Dr Anna Casey-Cox of Poverty Action Waikato.
The NZCCSS report highlights that what social services in Hamilton are seeing on a regular basis is also experienced on a national level. “Too many people have too little. People aren’t getting out of poverty by living on nothing”, says Karen Morrison-Hume, Missioner of Anglican Action in Hamilton. “More funding is needed for services to address increasing demand and the increasing complexity of their needs, and more funding is needed for those individuals and their whānau.”
Wages have not risen sufficiently to cover increases in accommodation and living costs, the report stipulates. “Being employed on the minimum wage means living in poverty for many families we see”, says John Kavanagh, Manager of Catholic Family Support Services. “We pay a Living Wage because we believe that it is hard to survive in our community without a reasonable amount of income, and that we see many people who struggle to survive on their income. If we were all paid a Living Wage a lot of the other poverty related issues that people face would disappear.”
Food poverty and insecurity is described by the NZCCSS report as a now normalized issue facing our communities. Poverty Action Waikato’s latest report shows that community responses to food need in Hamilton are on the rise. But this is not surprising to many of the social services. “Of course this is happening”, says Robert Moore, Social Justice Enabler at Anglican Action. “If we as community can feed people who are hungry we will do it, but it’s living in the tension, because then Government can say, ‘well the community is doing it now we don’t have to’ and put up barriers to access assistance for food, or not make sure people have enough money to feed their families. But actually, this isn’t what we are funded to do. The community will always try and fill any gaps with whatever resources we have, but that’s not an excuse for Government to create them.”
Poverty Action Waikato (PAW) is a regional advocacy and research organisation. Poverty Action Waikato aims to research and to advocate for action to meet both immediate social needs and to bring about necessary structural change over time.
Poverty Action Waikato does not support the Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill. This view in based on PAW’s recent research and relationships with the social service sector. Through our research we have identified a number of concerning issues regarding the current provision of social welfare, including people unable to access the support that they need. The requirements of the welfare system to meet certain requirements, including accessing over-subscribed budgeting services, are creating barriers to service that people are unable to overcome. The barriers to service are resulting in people sleeping in cars and resorting to charity in order to get the food that they need.
Poverty Action Waikato does support the simplification of the social security legislation that would result in more effective social welfare service to our most vulnerable populations. This rewrite bill does not achieve this, but instead entrenches a damaging, punitive approach to social welfare provision.
We are opposed to the bill for the following reasons:
The Bill entrenches a vindictive and punitive form of social welfare provision that our research identifies as resulting in increasingly marginalised communities who are unable to access adequate social, housing and income support.
We do not support the ongoing shift of focus away from ensuring those in need have the means to dignified survival to an unrelenting focus on paid work opportunity. We do not believe that a focus on paid work gives due recognition to the various unpaid work roles, including parenting or caring for elders in the home, that are vital to the development of a flourishing society.
We consider that Work and Income should focus on ensuring that people who are unemployed or underemployed are provided education, training and decent work opportunity. We do not agree with the unrelenting focus on shifting people who are sick, disabled or sole parents into part-time employment that is often casualised, temporary and low paid.
We disagree with the investment approach to welfare. This approach treats people as financial risks rather than as dignified human beings who deserve the same consideration as any other person in society. The investment approach will unfairly profile those whom the Government thinks are liable and a risk. By categorising people according to financial risk, the investment approach has to potential to heighten stigma and entrench discrimination.
We oppose the loss of agency that will result if this rewrite bill is passed. We are opposed to the redirection of benefits without consent. When you are on a low income, you are continuously making trade-offs between basic items and expenses. Removing choice about what to spend money on would create another level of stress in an already stressful situation. The mandatory redirection of benefits has the propensity to leave families without enough to meet essential expenses and no individual discretion to meet those challenges.
We request the removal of Sections 176, 177 and 178 from the Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill. These sections impose a $22-$28 per week per child sanction on sole parent beneficiaries (mainly women) who are unable to identify the father of their child. In doing so they penalise families already struggling to survive.
On Friday the 27th of May, we delivered the following post budget memo to MP’s David Bennett and Tim MacIndoe . We are awaiting a response.
RESPONSE TO BUDGET 2016
Date: 27 May 2016
To: David Bennett and Tim MacIndoe
From: Poverty Action Waikato
This budget represents a poverty of imagination and yet again the poor and working poor are the losers. The needs of people living on the breadline are immediate yet there is no direct funding from the budget that will meet any of these needs.
We note the complete absence of funding targeted at increasing the State owned housing stock. We call for the dividends paid to Government from Housing NZ to be directed to an immediate recapitalisation for increasing the housing stock, rather than going into the consolidated fund. Recent evidence reported on RNZ (18 May, 2016) indicated that the State owned stock currently falls 20,000 houses short of per capita provision in 1991. The overall housing stock is well short of the need for housing, particularly for people living on low incomes.
We note the increased taxation on tobacco while many of the other harmful substances which carry high social and health costs, such as alcohol and sugar, have not been targeted for increased taxes.
We applaud the investment in Te Reo Maori to strengthen the use of this official language.
It is extraordinary to see that the Government is investing more than 3 times the amount allocated to supporting pressing areas of social deprivation in new military spending. This spending reflects the ideological direction this Government is taking.
We the undersigned, call on the Government to reject the current pathway to destruction of our common good communities and society that is underpinned by neo-liberal economic policies.
The pool of resources being spent on the welfare for the most vulnerable in our communities is not getting any larger – yet the needs in our communities have expanded. At the post budget lunch last week, Alan Johnson from the Salvation Army reflected on the actual realities of the budget, providing the 70 attendees with a critical perspective different to the political spin hitting our mainstream news media.
The Minister of Finance has capped welfare spending at approximately 30% of the budget. Superannuation is funded out of this welfare spending. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the current government will be retaining all superannuation entitlements. As the population ages, more and more people will be claiming their superannuation entitlements and this will mean that there is less and less money available for other welfare recipients. There is a conversation that needs to be had about the distribution of welfare spending and some personal challenges for more privileged people claiming their superannuation benefits.
The government’s spending on income related rent subsidies and accommodation supplements has increased significantly over the last year and is expected to increase significantly over the following years if the current trajectory of government spending holds. There is a concerted push by central government to push people our of State Housing into the private rental market with assistance. This is effectively a transfer of wealth from tax payers to private landlords.
The government has not reviewed the regional cap on the accommodation supplement – this is concerning to us in the Waikato because over the past year, for example, the average rent in Hamilton increased 5%. Without increases in the accommodation supplement, people who rent are effectively required to find this additional money themselves. In a low wage economy, with restricted welfare spending, increased accommodation costs would simply be too much for some families, households and individuals.
This budget represents an extension of the neoliberal agenda – a push to market provision and the ongoing erosion of the Welfare State. Poverty Action Waikato is advocating for increased investment in State Housing and a social welfare system that recognises our shared vulnerabilities. We need a system that meets needs and that prioritises the common good. For more of our suggested actions, based on the stories of the social service sector in Hamilton, please read our latest report – Neglect and Nurture.
In the report, Writing back to the Hamilton community about…Neglect and Nurture (2016), Anna Casey-Cox and Rose Black interviewed people working in 16 Hamilton community and social service organisations. The report reflects the observations of those who participated about how neglect and nurture operates in Hamilton and offers insights for building a responsible society.
Participants pointed out that people utilising services are struggling to access income, food and accommodation needed to live. To address this it was suggested that a combination of good policies, effective action and services underpinned by the values of manaakitanga, collaboration, unconditional love and interdependence are essential for enabling society to flourish. Community houses and centres are highly valued resources, offering an essential point of contact for people in need. In many cases, community and social service providers have to go beyond the call of duty, so as to ensure people are accessing the best possible all round care and support.
“Walking alongside someone in need in a holistic way is valuable work that is time intensive and under resourced in our community”.
Consequently, the report suggests greater investment in community centres, community houses and advocacy services. Thus ensuring that our most vulnerable populations have access to resources and the time and space to self-nurture and care for one another. By prioritising people and communities, Hamilton as a city will also flourish.
As part of a nationwide series of post budget events, Child Poverty Action Group is pleased to be hosting this event together with: Poverty Action Waikato, Anglican Action Hamilton, and DV Bryant Trust. Speakers include Alan Johnson and Professor Martin Thrupp.
Venue: Celebrating Age Centre, 30 Victoria Street, Hamilton.
Lunch is provided, please bring a koha to help cover this.
A review from Stewart Lawrence, Professor in Accounting, Waikato Management School.
“This report offers an excellent exposition of the failures of the market economy – in the areas of housing, employment and health. It shows clearly the impact on specific vulnerable groups (Maori, children and young adults). The statistics provided are shocking and thought-provoking. The report clearly shows the implications of treating housing as a commodity, and labour in a market economy is treated simply as an expendable commodity. The revelation (p.15-16) of the attitude of the wealthy towards tax avoidance is particularly shocking. The accounting profession has a lot to answer for in this respect. The winners of the market economy are the rich and powerful. What are the positives to the wealthy of having a fairer distribution of wealth? The report takes up this point well on page 14. There are benefits for everybody in social and economic equality. If inequality keeps increasing there are dangers. The increasing concentration of wealth in a few hands and the lack of purchasing power of the many was a major point of Marxism – it would lead to revolution! The illustration of Timebank was a reminder of the labour theory of value – in which labour is the source of all wealth and all labour should be equally valued.
I enjoyed the section on “Economies that serve communities’. Here is the challenge to the market economy that fails so many people. If the market does not satisfy community needs, mass movements could ultimately displace the system that suits only the few. The latter had better beware! Poverty is an inevitable outcome of capitalist accumulation. The concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands brings with it the danger of the downfall of exploitative systems. The rich somehow have to realise that there are advantages to them in greater social well-being and cohesion. Poverty is avoidable.
I enjoyed the paper and found its contents convincing.”
Twelve thousand Housing New Zealand or ‘state’ owned houses are to be sold into the private sector under the guise of community services.
The weekend announcement by housing minister Nick Smith will see the further transfer of publicly owned state assets into the private sector. Minister Smith says that the reason the government is selling off these houses is because the needs of those who currently live in state houses can be better met by community based organisations.
At the moment all taxpayers own and contribute to providing a level of social security to all the citizens of our nation through social welfare, education, health, and housing policies.
“Time and time again research has provided evidence that adequate housing is one of the most basic needs that will contribute to the health and well being of the people of our nation and is therefore a fundamental responsibility of the state rather than the private sector”, says Dr Rose Black from Poverty Action Waikato.
If the government decides it cannot afford to provide social housing how might an already very stretched and slimly resourced community sector do so?
Rather than sell off publically owned state houses the government would serve the public better by setting up ways in which state and community organisations work together to provide for the housing needs of people.
The sale of more State owned houses will further exacerbate the growing inequality in our society as support for the poorer members of society are no longer met by an ethos of social security. The level playing field and notions of equal opportunity are becoming more mythical by the day.
We met with the good people at Fairfield Rotary club on Monday night and heard about their good work raising funds to support many community projects and actions in Hamilton city. Rose and I talked with the Rotarians about our research and advocacy in the areas of food, housing, welfare reform and alcohol…and then it was time for questions – always the best part! One of the questions we got asked was whether we had been able to define poverty – Rose suggested that poverty means different things to different people and that the experiences of poverty are diverse and complex. One measure of poverty that is commonly used by researchers is ‘people living in a household with an income less than 60 percent of the median household disposable income after housing costs.’ One Rotarian concluded the night by offering his own understanding of poverty, demonstrating that how each of us define poverty depends to a certain extent on who we are and our own life experiences.
We had a lot of conversations with the Rotarians over the course of the evening, and one person reflected to us how as a landlord they were dismayed because their offerings of help to their tenants had been treated disrespectfully. A lack of knowing about respect and how to be respectful is an issue that we believe spans across all sectors of our society. A good question to think about might be – what would a truly respectful society look like? Would there be a big gap between rich and poor; would people struggle to feed their families; would people have to live in cold and damp houses? Perhaps there is something in the Rotarian motto ‘service above self’ that speaks of respect. Thank you Fairfield Rotary for a great night of discussion and your ongoing commitment to serve the Fairfield community.