Kiwi Families: It’s Our Story
Every year the Catholic Bishops of New Zealand set aside a week in September for Social Justice Week. This is an opportunity to consider Catholic social teaching on a specific social justice issue that is relevant to our society and Church community. In 2015, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand has focussed on family poverty and what it will take for all families in New Zealand to flourish.
The family is the foundation of Kiwi communities, and families of all shapes and sizes are called to love each other and grow together. In Aotearoa New Zealand many families struggle with the basics of simply making ends meet.
According to the 2014 Child Poverty Monitor, 24 per cent of New Zealand families with children experience income poverty. For these families, life can become about just surviving instead of flourishing. The experience of hardship is tinged with stress and isolation.
Caritas aims to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges struggling families face today in our country and provide parishes and communities with the opportunity to take the next step in ensuring all families can participate fully and experience flourishing.
Isolation to community
Material hardship and poverty is a reality that affects families around New Zealand, and in South Dunedin, the decline of manufacturing has seen many jobs disappear from the area.
In spite of growing hardship and poverty in one of New Zealand’s most deprived suburbs (according to the 2013 census), the Dunedin South Pastoral Area and Dunedin Catholic Social Services have teamed up to respond to some of the challenges facing families in need.
The parish and Catholic Social Services run cooking classes, community dinners, distribute food from the community centre and run an interest-free loan scheme.
“One of the things I love seeing is the way that people, with no prompting, help out and support each other. It’s a wonderful community in that sense,” says Fr Gerard Aynsley, Parish Priest for Dunedin South Pastoral Area.
“But we also see occasions where families get isolated and end up battling along on their own and life can be really difficult. When people get isolated, we find that they fall into traps.”
Fr Gerard says one of the main traps that people in the area fall into is debt, and with so many high-interest lenders around the suburb offering easily acquired loans it is easy to understand why a struggling family would take out a loan. This problem is that these debts often cripple families and create a lot of stress for family members.
“So any way that we can build community and support each other, I think we can help to remedy that,” Fr Gerard says.
From low income to enough to thrive
As the cost of living continues to increase, low income families are facing the challenge of low wages and inadequate income support. Around the country, the Living Wage Movement is helping to shine a light on the many stories of low-paid workers working 50-70 hour weeks in order to make ends meet.
For husband and young father Esau Taniela this meant less time to spend with his daughter and wife, while they also struggled to make ends meet because of the low wages he was paid as a parking attendant.
” I was always working so much and…. we couldn’t, I couldn’t do anything [about it]. It was a really dark place back then. I can just remember how helpless I felt. Life has to be about more than just work,” says Mr Taniela.
Now paid a living wage by his employer Wellington City Council, Mr Taniela says life has changed drastically for him and his family. They are now able to save, live comfortably and buy things for his daughter that he never had growing up.
“The living wage is also about participating in society. I’m able to do that, I’m able to go for a walk with my daughter, take her to the park. This is all I’ve been fighting for, this is all I’ve wanted… this is what my family deserves,” Mr Taniela says.
From poor housing to a good home
A secure and good home is often the first step for many families beginning to think about their future. But with prices spiralling out of control, it is becoming increasingly difficult for low income families to find suitable housing in Auckland.
Rental prices for homes increased by as much as $30 per week between 2013 and 2014 in West Auckland, for example, and throughout Auckland around 2,500 households are on the waiting list for social housing.
One avenue of support for homeless and struggling families is De Paul House, an emergency housing provider based in Northcote, Auckland.
“Before De Paul House…we were in really bad debt, couldn’t afford to live, couldn’t afford to eat really and were living with family. If De Paul House wasn’t here, we wouldn’t know where we’d be, we’d probably be homeless,” says Auckland resident Va Mose.
“It was a real struggle knowing that I was in debt, knowing I had a four year old…a new baby on the way. Not knowing where we were going to live, whether you’re going to have a roof over your head, what the kids are going to have for breakfast or dinner.”
In 2014 the Children’s Commission reported that 17 per cent of children in New Zealand live in overcrowded households, and with many households spending more than half their income on rent, families are forced to make the choice to do without other necessities.
Provincial poverty to flourishing regions
In the birthplace of Catholicism in Aotearoa (Hokianga Harbour) many whānau in the rural Māori communities of Panguru and Motuti have had to make the difficult choice of moving to cities like Auckland just to find work. Unemployment in North Hokianga was 16.2 per cent in 2013 (according to the census that year), more than double the national average of 7.1 per cent.
Faced with a serious lack of job opportunities, the area experienced a 14.1 per cent population decrease between 2006 and 2013.
“Employment… is one thing that we need, that we’d love to see,” says Sherry Pomare, a recent graduate from Te Kura Taumata o Panguru in the community of Panguru.
“A lot of people would come home. Because at the end of the day, the kids miss out on being brought up around tikanga.”
For both the families that leave and those that stay there are difficulties. Those who remain take on multiple roles on the marae and in the community to uphold tikanga and tradition, while those who leave often encounter a life in the city that is not always as straight forward as it seems.
Many whānau continue to feel the draw home – ki to rātou kāinga tupu – to their birthplace.
From transience to stability
Kiwi families searching for affordable and suitable accommodation often find themselves moving from place to place, sometimes even to new cities to find a home, and for many of these families transience is a stressful and isolating experience.
During the past year, De Paul House (an emergency housing provider based in Northcote, Auckland) has seen a number of long established families from the area leave behind support networks and schools and move to South and West Auckland to find affordable housing.
“Recently, the situations families have been in prior to coming to us have become more extreme, there is more rough sleeping,” says Jan Rutledge, Manager of De Paul House.
“We have had an incident of a mother and her ten or eleven year old daughter sleeping at Takapuna beach… And that’s extremely shocking when you find children in that situation.”