More than churches, rugby and festivals is the name of a Salvation Army report to be released today on the state of the Pacific Island community in New Zealand. Early media reports indicate it paints a bleak picture of abuse and exploitation as Pacific Island families migrated here following the Second World War.
The negative social statistics for the Pacific community which follow poverty and deprivation are well known and reflect a group which has been used and abused by successive governments. This is best summed up in the figures of 16% unemployment and the average income having increased by just $2 in the last five year. Like working class areas generally this is a community struggling under the weight of problems created by the greed and stupidity of the wealthy which precipitated the global financial crisis.
The one particularly bright spot is the number of Pacific students going on to university – in similar numbers to those for the rest of the population. This is fantastic but don’t expect to hear Prime Minister John Key sing the praises of teachers and schools in our low-income communities who are doing such a fantastic job. This would upset National’s self-serving strategy to promote privatisation of education through charter schools.
We should also note there is a small middle class of Pacific families who are represented in parliament by the likes of National MPs Sam Lotu-Iiga and Alfred Ngaro but their situation is poles apart from the daily struggle of most Pacific families.
National’s policies are making things so much harder with Ngaro and Lotu-Iiga being trotted out regularly by National to defend the indefensible. For example in Glen Innes this Pacific pair are siding with developers and the wealthy to uproot Pacific families in the social and ethnic cleansing of the Tamaki area. Like that other Pacific Uncle Tom, former National MP and now Auckland councillor, Arthur Anae, they tell Pacific families to go quietly and not make a fuss for the government.
Labour has enjoyed loyal support from the Pacific people for many decades even as Pacific families went backwards under Labour policies. In the first four years of the last Labour government the proportion of Pacific families suffering severe hardship rose from 16% to 30%. Later on working for families made a significant difference for many families but they are now going backwards economically.
Unrelenting and impossible debts are a common problem. Earlier reports debunked the myth that this is mainly caused by donations to churches or providing for families back in the islands. The first reason Pacific families borrow is to pay for basic household expenses such as grocery costs and electricity bills. The second reason is car finance which is an unseen nightmare for those on low-incomes. Family and social responsibilities come third as a reason to borrow.
Gambling on pokies out of a mixture of hope and desperation further impoverishes these families as loan sharks continue their unchallenged feeding frenzy.
New Zealand is way behind on loan shark legislation. Labour refused to act for nine years and National has some good features to its proposed legislation but its best effort is weak and timid. National’s focus is on the lender being able to show the borrower will be able to pay back the loan before it is issued but the sharks will rip this net apart. From 1 July across all Australian states the maximum interest rate will be capped at 48%. We need policy such as this here because interest rates are commonly several hundred percent.
But above all Pacific families need full time reliable employment. It’s typical in New Zealand’s deregulated employment environment for several family members to all be working part-time, low-paid, casualised jobs to bring in enough income for the family to survive. It’s an abuse of human dignity. The private “market” can’t and won’t provide those jobs so the government and local authorities have that responsibility.
Like all low-income communities the Pacific community can look after itself and its families without big interference from government agencies. What they need are the means to do just that.