Struggling to survive; those seeking help highest in 100 years

The Spinoff

Aucklanders who rely on benefits say they are just “trying to survive”. Hardship support from Work and Income has amounted to a “pittance”, they say.

Advocates for Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) and beneficiaries using their services say the support offered this year did not match that of the first lockdown.

Just surviving is a struggle that is seeing the demand for the Auckland City Mission’s services soar. The Mission says people seeking help over the past three months has been the highest in its 100-year history.

It is currently distributing more than 1600 food parcels every week, more than double what was being given out pre-Covid-19.

Missioner Helen Robinson says the demand shows how many people were living without enough money for food.

“We’re conscious of people particularly who are on casual labour or even on contracts, people who have been receiving the wage subsidy gratefully – but if their rent or mortgage payments constitute a significant part of that, then what’s left over is very, very limited.”

With Christmas coming, the Mission’s worried it won’t be able to provide up to 9000 boxes of food and tens of thousands of presents for families who will otherwise go without this festive season.

The Mission is hoping for supplementary help from the public in the form of donated food and gifts, as demand this year is likely to be higher than the Mission itself can supply, Robinson says.

“In fact, we’ve been doing the most of what we can do for the last three months so this planning for Christmas is truly kind of the last draw of breath that the Mission can give this year to respond to the level of need,” she explains.

An AAAP advocate says the people they worked with “just wanted money for food”.

Scraping money together for kai often means falling behind on power, internet and water bills.

The advocate also says people saw getting a loan from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) for clothes and household appliances as too hard during lockdown. They are just trying to survive by whatever means they can.

“I suspect that in some cases people have also found other ways of getting the money needed to survive such as allowing their school-age children to get part-time work,” the advocate suggests.

They feel the ministry workers are being “far less generous-spirited” than in last year’s lockdown.

“The response from MSD just seems to show a total failure to comprehend the enormity and seriousness of this pandemic and the problems it is causing for the very poorest members of society.”

The MSD refutes this, saying client surveys show “high levels of satisfaction” with the Ministry’s service, with 93 percent of applications for food grants approved last month.


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