Candidates split over solving cycle of poverty

Families need to be empowered to make changes to their own lives if New Zealand is to break the cycle of poverty, says the Maori Party candidate for Te Tai Hauauru.

Chris McKenzie was one of six candidates to speak at a debate in Palmerston North yesterday hosted by Anglican and Catholic Social Services. He told the audience of about 50 social service workers and religious leaders at the Catholic Diocesan Centre that he was tired of being bombarded with messages about how Maori were worse off than the rest of New Zealand.

"I'm tired of hearing that and I'm also tired of our people not doing anything about it."

Government policies, whichever government it was, weren't working because the problems had not changed since Maori MPs were first elected to Parliament.

McKenzie said the Whanau Ora approach was what was needed, working with families to identify what they needed and assisting them to make changes in their own lives. "It's about saying to people, ‘how would you like to empower yourself?' "

Labour candidate for Palmerston North Iain Lees-Galloway said Labour had a proven track record of getting people into employment, he said, and policies that would assist the most vulnerable Kiwis. These included free GP visits and prescriptions for those aged under 13, over 65 and pregnant women.

"Labour aims to improve outcomes for all by investing in people and encouraging them to invest in themselves."

Palmerston North National candidate Jono Naylor, himself a former social worker, said paid work was the pathway out of poverty.

"Our focus is on getting people into work. When people are working they feel better about themselves, they're more self reliant, generally there are better health outcomes for their families and generally there is lower crime in areas with higher employment."

The Government only had limited resources to help, he said, but National was committed to making sure the most vulnerable got the help they needed.

NZ First's Palmerston North candidate Darroch Ball said as a solo dad he knew the challenges people faced. His party would work with anyone to "fight the scourge of poverty" with policies such as no GST on food and increasing the number of teen parent units in schools.

Palmerston North Conservative candidate Mark Pearce said he "strongly believed" in the importance of traditional families and said the Government should not try to act as head of the family. "Parents should take responsibility and be able to decide how to raise their children."

By not taxing the first $20,000 of people's earnings, the Conservatives would place more power in people's hands, he said.

Green Party MP Jan Logie said that one in four children lived in poverty in New Zealand was "a national crisis and National's disgrace".

Incomes needed to be increased and barriers to work removed so people could lift themselves out of poverty, she said. "It's a big job but it's one that the Greens are really keen to take on."

Manawatu Standard