Times tough but not for Nats' friends

Almost half of Kiwis are affected by unemployment, but National supporters are far less likely than other voters to have someone out of work in their inner circle of friends and family.

The data, collected as part of the latest Fairfax-Ipsos poll, has emerged as a key fault line in society and between the Government and the opposition.

The poll found 21 per cent of those surveyed had "several" people out of work in their circle of family and friends, and another 23 per cent said there were one or two people close to them unemployed.

The figure jumped sharply among Pacific and Maori respondents, with 57 per cent of a respondents saying several people in their circle were out of work. The proportion for Maori was 42 per cent.

Across the two groups, 67 per cent reported at least one or two of their friends and family were out of work.

But more than 70 per cent of National voters reported no-one in their circle was unemployed.

Ipsos pollster Duncan Stuart said he did not expect to see such a stark difference in a small country "where everyone is two to three degrees of separation apart".

The figures showed New Zealanders occupied quite different strata aligned with political views.

However, National voters were also the most confident that the current Government would make a better fist of reducing unemployment than the opposition.

Asked if the main opposition parties would do a better job of reducing unemployment, 34 per cent of those surveyed said yes and 31 per cent said no.

Maori and Pacific people had the strongest expectation the opposition could improve things – 55 per cent and 59 per cent respectively.

Not surprisingly, those backing Labour (66 per cent), Green (62 per cent) and NZ First (46 per cent) felt a change of Government would help, against just 7.7 per cent of National voters.

Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg said the poll showed the impact of unemployment was far greater than the official statistics suggest.

Officially, 6.2 per cent unemployment means 146,000 people out of work, but Rosenberg said: "There is a fair amount of 'churn' so more than 6.2 per cent would be affected in any one year."

There was also a much larger number of people not caught by the official data – those who were underemployed and seeking more work or part of the new buzz-word group, "the precariat", who lack job security.

Statistics NZ said in March 83,300 people were "underemployed", although that was 9800 lower than a year earlier.

Many people would also experience unemployment through their children, with the unemployment rate running at more than 25 per cent among 15- to 19-year-olds and 10.9 per cent among 20-24-year-olds, Rosenberg said.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce pointed to the Government's efforts to make the economy more efficient and to a wide range of other initiatives – including one-offs such as The Hobbit movie and SkyCity deals – as proof the Government was taking steps to boost employment, often with measures the opposition opposed, despite Labour and the Greens' stress on jobs.

But Stuart said one surprise finding in the data was that those with unemployed in their social circle – who might have been expected to back the SkyCity deal because it would create jobs – were less in favour of the deal than others.

"This suggests [Labour leader David] Shearer or [Prime Minister John] Key won't be able to dress up any old policy mutton and justify it on the 'it's all about job creation' plank."

Labour deputy leader Grant Robertson said the survey showed National voters could too easily live in a bubble and were buying the Government's rhetoric.

The country needed a more hands-on approach, "pulling all the levers big and small" including monetary policy, a capital gains tax and skills training. And he said that jobs would be a priority election battleground for Labour.

A centrepiece of its policy is likely to be an idea borrowed from Denmark to keep people who lose their jobs in the workforce through a type of "employment guarantee" scheme.

of remote Hick's Bay and one of the people surveyed.

Others who responded that they knew unemployed people personally say they entitled to empathy, not criticism.

Raroa, who works for the local iwi, says they often feel the burden of unemployment.

"We usually help in the simple ways, taking something out of the freezer to help a family over the next couple of days….

"Its help, others may see it as a burden. I can give a packet of sausages to tie the kids over a couple of nights."

Farming in the area is in a bad way and the forestry which used to hire locals, now brings in outside contractors.

Family members end up unemployed, for generations.

"They see themselves in a rut and they cannot see a way out."

Alcohol and cannabis becomes a problem: "They are a highlight for these guys who see no any other way out."

He sees one simple solution: get the young people to leave Hick's Bay.

"We are encouraging the young people once they have finished school here to go to the cities to further their learning – there is nothing here….

"I am not saying this is a bad place, it's a beautiful place, it's just that there is no opportunity of school leavers."

Raroa says things are getting worse and social welfare changes in July will make it harder on some of the people he knows.

"That will have an impact on some of our less fortunate whanau. Ten years ago it wasn't this bad; the forestry was more local contracting. There were more jobs, farming was okay, scrub-cutting, fencing, now the farms do it all themselves."

It admits its hard to deal with unemployment in his family.

"I personally support the kids and just make sure they get a good education and when they leave they have a brighter future….

"We are trying to break the cycle with the young people. You've always got to tell them to be positive because when they kids grow up, they will have to break the cycle."

Timaru's Lesley Donaghy, who has worked in the mental health services, knows unemployed people and is strongly of the view that society should take a kind view of them.

"It is very easy to blame the other people – I could get on my high horse – but until you've walked in somebody else's shoes, you shouldn't judge. Most people who are unemployed would like the opportunity to work."

She always buys a little extra in the supermarket to drop in food bank bins. More people should she says.

This week's discussion over food in schools and whether it was the parents' responsibility was the same issue over helping unemployed.

"People who say it is the parents job, I can only presume a lot of them have lived through a time of plenty. How many of them have had to budget for school shoes and that kind of thing? How can you pay rent when the benefit is so low?"

She doubts there is such a thing as a dole bludger at all.

"When you look in The Press, most of the jobs need driver's licences. Many of the people cannot afford the cost of getting the licence. Others have come through and out the other-side alcohol and have a year to wait…

"A lot of people, I would like to think, would have empathy with them, it is too easy to say that they are not looking hard enough."

Colleen Davies of South Auckland sometimes finds she has to give food to help out the unemployed people she knows.

"I feel so sorry for them, it is so hard, and there are no jobs around here."

Sunday Star Times