Poverty in our backyard a national disgrace



A woman had collapsed in the surging crowd in the lobby of Mangere Work and Income.  The mood was restless and hungry, faces were beet red , some people had been on their feet waiting for over four hours. Babies were crying and elderly leaned against walls for support. “This is the 3 days a year Work and Income are nice , that’s why we’re trampling on each other to get here,” a woman commented to me.

This was the second year I had volunteered for the annual Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) ‘Impact’ – a three day event where a number of volunteers from all over New Zealand provide advocacy for beneficiaries at one Work and Income branch. This year was Mangere.

Of course, it wasn’t about Work and Income being ‘nice’ – it was that they knew for these days their “clients” would be made well aware of their entitlements. The Paula Bennett business-as-usual approach of wholesale declining of applications for assistance would not wash with the 40 or so AAAP advocates.

The first woman I advocated for was being made to look for work on the Jobseeker benefit. She had 4 children. She had left an abusive relationship and in doing so had lost all her familial support networks. It transpired that the only member of the family who could look after her children while she was at work, abused them. She had nowhere to put the children so had to give up her labour hire job. She cried tears of joy when we were able to argue for some money for clothes for the children, she had always taken clothes from the rubbish of others.

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Another woman had got her clothes from one of those mobile clothes trucks. They gave her the clothes upfront , a few basic items , as she was in desperate need. In order to pay the $35 a week fee back to them she had to pawn basic furniture and borrow money from a loan shark.  She was so nervous because not only had she always been declined assistance from Work and Income before , but was made to feel embarrassed for asking – this was the common experience amongst the people we saw.

Another young woman was living in a two bedroom home with her 2 year old baby and 12 other people. She did not have a bed. There were no heaters in the house and people were cold. The other people in the home often got to the food before her and baby so they were hungry.

In Mangere. In Auckland. In our backyard.

These stories were not rare.

The extent of the poverty we came across should be a source of national disgrace and shame. We saw 500 beneficiaries over those three days and 500 more had to be turned away because we ran out of time. That’s 1000 desperate cases in one suburb. How many more are out there in just in that suburb let alone any other suburb in the country?

To the politicians who, in vying for our lefty vote, talk of child poverty – child poverty comes from adult poverty. Commit to the creation of secure jobs with decent wages. Commit to affordable housing and healthcare. Commit to repeal Paula Bennetts cruel, punitive and damaging welfare reforms immediately and lift the benefit rates so people can survive on them.

If beneficiaries received their correct entitlements in the first place, this advocacy wouldn’t be as necessary. However as it stands there is a dire need for more beneficiary advocacy and resources for the current groups so they can keep on carrying out this critical work. As the people of Aotearoa we need to organise alongside beneficiaries for the right to a dignified life for all – this is our struggle for a better society , one which doesn’t tolerate these levels of poverty and suffering.


  1. Urgently needed almost everywhere are independent advocates for those coping with welfare issues. Not everyone has the education to enable them to understand paperwork and they fall through the net. I am an educated woman well able to speak up for myself but would have welcomed an advocate to help me deal with WINZ when applying to become part of my husband’s retirement income while I was not yet 65. It wad humiliating and due to ill health gave up rather than fight.

    • You should be thankful our social welfare system permits people under 65 to piggyback their partners’ Super.

  2. That is remarkable work you are dong Tali. Remarkable.

    Tell me, are you registered on ‘givealittle’? If AAAP were on there, I would ‘give’. I am very poor myself – but I could definitely give a little.

    Please provide the link to ‘givealittle’ if you have one.

    Bless you all.

  3. Great piece Tali. I’m glad you mentioned mobile clothes trucks, they are a nightmare from hell and are spawning clones in the IT area. Nasty group operating out of west Auckland. They cripple people slowly, it’s like a death by a thousand cuts. Except each one in financial, and once in a hole fiscally – it’s bloody hard to drag yourself back out.

    I would love to see a new government introduce, finical literary courses, done at work – one hour a week. I’m thinking a good tax breaks for small and medium business who do this. Were people are taught, the realities of interest, inflation, budgets, and what these loan sharks really do to your income when they take 25 to 35 dollars a week from your pay packet.

    • I think they should be teaching all this at school. A class in how to handle the big wide world out there. From 13 years old onwards.

  4. There’s so much about poverty that needs to be addressed and one thing that could be helpful is to have a compulsory subject taught at high school about “the reality they now walk” teach them the real facts of life, relationships, the mental, emotional, physical & psychological effects that it can have on ones well being, all the positive and negatives of raising children, getting jobs, paying bills, all of the things that we as the adults are living now. Unfortunately not all parents can be relied upon or have the skills themselves to nurture or teach their kids the basics of sustaining ones well being, and thinking or hoping that they will learn or find out the hard way is just not good enough. We have a responsibility to arm the children of the future with this gift of knowledge that will be, to a certain extent, a very valuable tool that they will need to help guide them in their future decision making. Being the adult that I am now, I feel that being armed with that knowledge would have been equally or more beneficial to me than science or sewing etc…..I could go on but I might go off track (if I haven’t already). Our way of teaching our children in schools needs a change, we need to broaden their horizons by broadening their minds, hearts and yes, their souls, change needs to start somewhere…cause poverty effects everyone in someway big or small.

  5. Those clothing trucks totally contravene the law. I would like to see them out of business. I got caught out last year, the guy said there was a charge of “a couple of bucks a month”, which turned out to be more like $12. When the vacuum cleaner I had bought off the truck needed a part it was impossible to obtain, after around twenty phone calls I had to give it away.
    They were very pushy too, calling my home trying to sell me more stuff. I have seen people who are their clients getting power disconnects etc; Not good.
    Good on AAAP for the advocacy.

  6. The true civilization is where every man gives to every other every right that he claims for himself. -Robert Green Ingersoll, lawyer and orator (1833-1899)

  7. This country is being flooded with Right Wing wealthy voters.

    Hence the bewilderment and anger of ordinary Kiwis.

    This election is important people, lest the Right win, lest they slash the government, lest our police become hired mercenaries.

    Fight for the votes. Offer your non voter friends a coffee. Get them to fight for the cause. Or we will become tenants, like the Irish were before the famine.

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