Kawerau poverty worst in 60 years, school principal says


A Kawerau school principal says poverty in the town is at the highest level she has seen in her lifetime.

With a proposed 15.1 percent household rates rise in the offing, Ripeka Lessels (pictured) spoke to the Kawerau District Council about her concerns.

She told the Council there are two leading drivers for the increase – increased staffing costs and additional staff needed for governance support, engineering, policy planning, solid waste, and finance administration.

“Are they absolutely necessary?” she asked.

“I ask this question as a school principal who makes these decisions all the time. Are they necessary? Can I do it differently? Can I do it better? Do I have the money to do that? What gives way?”

Increasing rates on top of increases in the cost of living would be “a double whammy for people already struggling” Lessels said.

She was one of several people who either spoke or wrote to the Council in response to its proposed rates.

Poverty rife in New Zealand

Lessels says she’s never seen poverty in Kawerau the way it is today.

“I was a poor girl growing up. We were poor. We didn’t have anything, but we were never poverty-stricken. We never had homelessness.”

Poverty is rife all over the country she says.

She’s sees this in her role as vice-president of the New Zealand Educational Institute trade union.

She sees it as deputy chair of the Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand.

“I see it across the schools that I deal with” she says.

Council reconsiders

Feedback showed 31 submitters said no to the increase, 23 agreed to it and five did not respond to the question.

The Council also asked whether people would be happy if they amended some levels of service to reduce the rates increase.

Of the 35 who suggested reductions in service, a range of cost-cutting measures were mentioned.

Charging for the town swimming pool, reducing rubbish collections and public gardens’ costs, and Council organised events were some of these.

While most don’t want to pay for the town’s free swimming complex, one issued a grim warning.

He’s concerned children will go swimming in the river instead, which could result in an increase in drownings.

Council’s new plan

As upcoming legislative changes could significantly impact its budgets, the Council has opted to defer its long-term plan – and proposed rates rises – until next year.

Meantime, it is engaging with its community on an enhanced annual plan for the coming year.

“We never would have believed that in 2024 we would be living in those conditions” Mayor Faylene Tunui said.

The Council will deliberate on community feedback and is scheduled to adopt the final plan on June 26.


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.