Bill English claims to be keen on rewarding ‘hardworking’ New Zealanders.
Maria and Sam have 5 children, they live in a HNZ house. Their overriding goal in life is for their children to do well at school. We meet them at their wits end on a hot March morning in West Auckland after a yet another demeaning and demoralising meeting with WINZ.
Their house is very small for 7 people but has given them security for 10 years and, until recently, Housing NZ allowed them to pay an income related-rent of around $250. Sam has a 40 hour a week job at $16.80 per hour in a factory. They don’t drink, smoke or gamble but even with subsidised rent, they were struggling to feed their growing family. They were so desperate they took loans with loan sharks just for the basics. With hungry, active young boys they were often at the Salvation Army for foodbank help.
Already hard workers, they got National’s message loud and clear that work is the way out of poverty. So, after her last child, Maria went back to work 5 days a week at McDonalds for $15.80 an hour. This was far from easy for her with 5 young children. You can see, Maria and Sam are exactly the kind of hardworking parents that Bill English approves of.
But what happened next was their rent suddenly went up nearly $200 per week to $442 and they lost $142 a week from their Working for Families. Of course Maria also had less time to care for her family so everyone was under stress. Loans started mounting for the basics of school uniforms stationary, school fees and food, and they got behind in their rent payments. Housing New Zealand was saying to them since they were earning so much they needed to find a private rental. Stress mounted as they could see that a private rental would provide their family no security of tenure and disrupt their children’s schooling.
Rent arears accrued of over $2000 and Housing NZ issued an eviction notice. Their working hours were affected because so much time was spent at appointments with WINZ, community law office, MSD, and Housing New Zealand. Eventually they were advised that Maria should stop work altogether because her income was the problem. It pushed this family over the threshold for income-related rents to apply.
After very time-consuming negotiations, Housing New Zealand agreed that the eviction would be waived and WINZ agreed to lend them the money to repay the arears. This morning they went to WINZ to sign the papers. Sam had to take time off work and they had their youngest child with them which was stressful for them and the child. It took one and half hours because the new case worker they met with kept insisting that the application for a loan for the arears had been declined. Only through their persistence did they finally get the right documents. They were not so lucky with their request for help with food. A food grant that was approved three weeks ago was declined. Why? Sam had just got a 20 cents per hour increase in income that disqualified them.
Maria has cut back to one day work a week to keep a foot in the door of employment, and to just keep their income related rent. But that could be jeopardised if Sam works overtime. Yes, they are paying less rent and get more WFF, but no they can’t survive on just his income. They have just pawned their wedding rings and are attempting to withdraw Sam’s small KiwiSaver fund under hardship provisions
What would you do Mr English?