On the back of the NZ Council of Christian Social Services 22nd Vulnerability Report we, as a country, should be seriously questioning how we have allowed food insecurity to become normalised. So many recent media reports have been focussed on the strain families are facing with the cost of housing, but the flow on effect of this is a detrimental impact on a family’s ability to put food on the table.
On one hand, we have an increasing number of kiwis who have the means to dine in many fabulous restaurants on a regular basis, and on the other, we have so many families wondering how they are going to be able to afford their next meal. It hasn’t escaped me that I fall in to the first category of kiwis. No one wants to deny New Zealanders the privilege of enjoying eating out but the inequality that exists within our country can so easily be seen in just this one measure – food – what we eat, where we eat, how often we eat.
On reflection of my own working class upbringing, even during part of the 90’s when both my parents were out of work, there was never a time where as a child I would be concerned that there wouldn’t be food in the cupboard. How different is it now? The anxiety that these parents must feel not knowing whether what they have will cover every meal, and that same anxiety must surely be felt by their kids. My three year old goes to his ECE centre everyday with his ice cream container lunch box containing fruit, a sandwich and usually raisins, and can spend his day focussed on things that should be important to kids – learning, playing and building relationships. How many kids are distracted from the important things because their primary focus is how hungry they are?
Kids showing up at school without having had breakfast and without lunch in hand isn’t a new phenomenon. We’ve been publically talking about this for a number of years now. How shameful is it that we have a Prime Minister and Government who would rather spend their energy focussed on the judging and shaming the parents, rather than ascertaining and addressing the reasons for the food deficit and just ensuring that OUR children are fed.
On a regular basis I have families coming to my West Auckland office for help – mostly housing and WINZ related. A while back I met a single mother who was so intent on making sure that her daughter had all that she needed – food, school resources, fees for extracurricular activities, that the mother herself had become dangerously thin. She was literally denying herself of food to make sure her daughter had all she needed.
On the 22nd of June 2016, a mother of 6 was interviewed as part of a TV ONE piece on the Vulnerability Report. She clearly stated that she would rather go to her local social service for support than to WINZ where she is made to feel like an outcast. I see it all the time with the constituents that come to me for help – discomfort with having to go to WINZ for help. And of course you’d hate it – you are made to feel like a criminal and judged for having too many children, not having a job, having too much debt, not being able to keep up with rent payments, not being able to afford food for your kids, not being able to afford the car repair payment. And when people are already feeling like absolute crap because they just can’t seem to keep their head above water, WINZ- the frontline for exercising Government policy- put the boot in.
Common sense has to prevail at some point for us as a country. The image I get in my head when I think of the current state of our welfare system is of this: A person is lying on the ground down and out, wounded and needing a hand up. The current government rhetoric dictates that they are kicked while they are down and screamed at to get to their feet. Clearly that approach is not going to work. The Government’s current approach is far more stick than carrot. WINZ has reduced their support in the form of things like food grants but that hasn’t made the problem go away. Instead under resourced NGO’s are forced to pick up the slack and fill the growing gaps that the Government is refusing to acknowledge, let alone do anything about.
Food insecurity, a housing crisis and a welfare system that now has so many gaps in it that it resembles more of a giant hula hoop than a safety net are three of the many gifts that eight years of a National Government have given us. Here’s hoping more New Zealanders will say enough is enough in the lead up to the 2017 election.
MP for Kelston | Junior Whip | Labour Spokesperson for Social Development