Hamilton beggars: is it ‘Do not feed the animals’?

There is something dehumanising about the campaign by the Hamilton Central Business Association to stop people giving money to beggars. It feels like the ‘Do not feed the animals’ signs found in zoos and suchlike across the world.

My family do nearly all our shopping in central Hamilton. We like its character, wide verandas and sense of renewal. We have never been hassled by beggars on our outings. But if I want to give a few dollars to someone with their hat out then I will.

The Hamilton Central Business Association talks about people getting the ‘correct’ help. They seem to believe there is a good safety net to catch up all the people they will help evict from the central city. There really isn’t.

A recent Poverty Action Waikato report, ‘Neglect and Nurture’ presents a more flax-roots picture than is usually painted by the Key Government. It illustrates the increased conditionality of public and social services in Hamilton. The inflexible requirements for accessing services means that people are often not getting the support they need.

The report tells us people who must attend a budgeting course before accessing funds may face a 2-3 week wait. That to have mental health problems now makes people more vulnerable than ever. It talks about how difficult it is to access a caseworker and about recent immigrants from the Pacific getting little support. There is insecure and overcrowded housing and the predatory activities of instant finance companies increase the likelihood of debt.

The problems highlighted are not just a Waikato issue. The report of the Cross-Party Inquiry on Homelessness published this month also concludes that a large number of eligible people are not being helped by the relevant Government agencies, Housing New Zealand and the Ministry of Social Development. Other providers are not getting enough resources to deal with the volume of homelessness either.

The language of the Cross-Party report is of people falling through gaps and cracks but they seem more like gaping crevasses. Up and down the country our society is becoming more punitive when we should be doing more to help.

Beggars might well use the money for addictions but middle class people have more expensive ones. My niece and her husband accidently bought a P-contaminated house this year. It was all over the news and the house was in leafy Waikanae of all places.

Hamilton is also a very comfortable place to live for the middle classes. At home by the Waikato River there are tui and fantails and kowhai and nikau palms. On long weekends many people seem to go off to their holiday homes.

It all begs the question, in what ways are the Hamilton Central Business Association going to provide extra support for the beggars they want to remove off the streets? They could fund the support through other organisations or directly and they could lobby local and central government.

Otherwise they should just allow Hamilton’s central streets to remind us of the deeply unequal society we all live in.

Martin Thrupp is Professor of Education at the University of Waikato and a member of the Poverty Action Waikato working group.

Published in the New Zealand Herald, October 21, 2016

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Submission: Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill

22 June 2016

 

 

Background:

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.

 

Submission:

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.