Evidence Clear, Disparity Growing

Two articles today provided a clear indication of the direction we are heading as a country.

The first was a front page piece on Gore's Salvation Army food bank. The hardcopy version was more detailed to the one that I have linked to and described a worrying new trend. Kaye Byron has worked with the organisation for 18 years and has been upset by the recent numbers of pensioners asking for help. Most have been independent for all their lives and have never had to ask for food before. Coming to the food bank was a last resort.

"They are really embarrassed. They don't want to be here...it's just absolutely horrible."

Other food banks around the province have reported similar trends and the Southland Food Bank Charitable Trust co-ordinator Ron Maynard has reported almost double the number of food parcels being given out in Invercargill compared to last July.

Invercargill Salvation Army food bank co-ordinator Brenda King believed that the rising costs of power, petrol and health services were major contributing factors.

"People are just really, really struggling."

For this to be happening in Southland is proof that the Government's policies in addressing poverty are failing. Economically Southland is doing better than any other, 72% of the population is in employment (Northland 56%, Gisborne 58%), dairying is booming and despite having only 2% of the county's population we produce over 11% of the nation's export income.

Southland is achieving what the Government is expecting elsewhere and yet poverty is still growing in the south. The argument that a stronger economy will help all New Zealanders and will alleviate poverty is clearly not the silver bullet it is made out to be. Many young families in employment are not able to survive on their income and a recent report on food poverty in Whangarei recorded that:

"Families on low incomes or benefit in some instances can just manage if they don't smoke, drink, gamble, have no car, no debt and don't go out."

The trickle down theory that National Governments continue to rely on does not work for all those who will always be dependent on state support or are reliant on a minimum wage (especially one that is not adjusted to reflect actual living costs). It is the Government that will always determine the incomes of these people, not market forces.

The second article that caught my interest was a report on a comprehensive survey of 8500 Auckland Secondary students. It actually contained positive data regarding our education system and the attitudes and wellbeing of most of our teenagers, but the fact that caught my eye was in the section on money. 11.5% of teens reported that their parents worried about not having enough money for food "often or all of the time". This was a significant 3.5% increase from the last two surveys. Those families who never have to worry about money for food dropped from 64.4% to 55.7%, an even more significant change.

Something is clearly wrong when over the past three years the NBR rich list has recorded extraordinary increases in wealth (averaging almost 20% per year) and a collective wealth increase from $38 billion in 2010 to  $60.4 billion in 2013. The Government is crowing about an economic turnaround and yet 45% of families worry about having enough money for food. In a land of milk and honey to have such high levels of food insecurity is incomprehensible.

Paula Bennett's determined effort to hide the reality of poverty and her Government's effectiveness in addressing it, by refusing to apply any form of measurement, it is being increasingly challenged by all manner of evidence. Holly Walker exposed the reality behind the Government's callous agenda  in a recent question to the struggling Minister of Social Development.


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