Recession bites hard at community

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY
Last updated 14:52 20/07/2009

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Eye on the Electorate

Recession bites hard at community Adult education vital for community Politician available to highest bidder Maternity services a top priority Down time reflected in Budget Health target must be prevention City fighting recession There are alternatives to explore Expanding to save jobs

OPINION: Take a moment to think of the wonderful people who work for Work and Income New Zealand.

They are an easy target for political point-scoring, vented frustration and desperate aggression.

But still they work on.

Every single day the real effects of the recession the sharpest edges if you will walk through their door.

Redundancy, reduced hours, mortgage struggles, unpaid bills, food shortages, family tension, every week Winz staff see more and more of these and, thankfully, they work on, even despite their own numbers being cut back in the face of rising demand.

At the Palmerston North Electorate Office, we also see some of the people in our community hit hardest by the recession, people who have worked hard to take care of their families but who now, through no fault of their own, find themselves unable to make ends meet, even with the meagre support they might be able to get from the unemployment or any other benefit.

It is not unusual, but nevertheless continually humbling, to have whole families come in to see us, literally weeping, at their wits' end, because overnight they have gone from apparent financial security to not knowing how to pay the next power bill.

Proud to have earned a living, most are reluctant to sign on for a benefit, holding out hope that they can find another job before the money is all gone.

Sadly, right now, that hope is usually deeply unfounded.

The numbers are breathtaking 310,000 New Zealanders are now on a benefit. That's 52,000 more than 12 months ago.

The number of people on the unemployment benefit increases by 1200 each week and that's only part of the story, 8000 more people are on the DPB, 2000 more people are on the invalids benefit.

Eight thousand more people are on the sickness benefit.

The Government's response has so far been unremarkable.

They've got some great lines that anyone who keeps an eye on Parliament TV will have heard over and over: "Blunting the sharp edges of the recession," "the road to recovery," and "we cannot turn back the tide of global recession."

Those one-liners and more are somehow woven into virtually every speech delivered by National Party MPs in the house.

But John Key promised a "do-fest" not a "talk-fest" at his job summit back in March.

So what has the Government done?

The big idea from the job summit was a cycle-way from Cape Reinga to the Bluff.

Uncosted and hugely over-estimating its job-creating potential, the idea was slated by Finance Minister Bill English.

There's no way New Zealand can peddle our way out of recession.

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But the Prime Minister got his $50 million for what was first scaled down to a series of regional cycle ways and then to a "patchwork" of cycle tracks as it slowly dawned on Mr Key that the figures don't add up.

What else?

The re-start package looks good on paper.

But in reality, very few people are eligible for it certainly no one who has contacted my office, no matter how hard we try to make it work.

The nine-day fortnight has saved some jobs and that is great news for those workers, but unfortunately, there are fewer than 200 of these.

That's a drop in the ocean compared to the 1200 going on the dole every week.

So what the Government has come up with so far is just window dressing.

Worse, National refuses to invest in skills, has cut community education and potential job creation through research and development tax credits and the Fast Forward Fund.

This week another 1200 people will line up for the first time at Winz.

There will be more tears, more heartache, more desperate negotiations with the bank, the power company and the phone company.

The foodbanks will be stretched even further.

Clever one-liners won't stop this.

What might is a plan to create jobs and support out of work families.

Where is it Mr Key?

- © Fairfax NZ News

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