Now's the time we need to reach out

05:58, Aug 06 2014
Martin Reading
HELPING HAND: Glenn Bisdee, who is running an initiative to put low cost panel heaters into the bedrooms of children from struggling families.

In fifth and final part of a series looking at struggling households, Stacey Knott talks to community leaders about potential solutions.

Nelson GP Dr Graham Loveridge says the issues of deprivation and poverty are "an awful mix to try and untangle".

The issues this series has investigated has outlined the strands of a tangled web many families are caught in, but there is hope.

Martin Reading

The strands are interlinked - low-income families and people often end up in poorer quality houses with issues of heating and dampness that have negative effects on health.

Over-crowding can exaggerate the spread of illnesses, and make them harder to control.

Low income is linked to poor diet, and so, poor health. A lack of nutritious food hampers learning in the classroom; this will in turn lead to issues with qualifications later on.


Martin Reading
MEETING NEEDS: Martin Reading, who runs the non-profit group Food For Families, is tackling one of the strands of deprivation.

Cooking at home is not as common, house prices in Nelson are unreachable for many, and rents are some of the highest in the country.

Low wages and seasonal work are a reality for many. It's hard to stay on top, and it's even harder to get ahead.

Loveridge wants to see those on the lowest levels of income still have enough to provide for adequate housing and nutrition.

"We need to increase the minimum wage and benefits for those who are not in work or [not] working fulltime."

Martin Reading is tackling one of the strands of deprivation at the front-line.

He runs Food for Families, a voluntary group that since October has been collecting produce to turn into healthy vegetarian food.

He likens himself to a modern day Robin Hood. He was concerned about the gap between the rich and the poor, and wants to encourage those with spare cash to spare to help out those who have not.

"I beg from the rich and give to the poor and try and keep that gap from getting too out of control."

"There's a need within our community and poverty is a reality in New Zealand, and it is becoming more and more so for some."

Every Friday night, with a group of volunteers, he puts on meals in the Victory Community Centre, relying on the goodwill of local growers and businesses to donate.

The popularity of the meals is growing, with an average of 50 to 60 people now showing up.

Reading moved to Nelson from Christchurch after the earthquakes and says he has been surprised at the levels of poverty in Nelson.

He is also concerned about the gap between lower and high income people here, and feels it is time Nelsonians acknowledged what's going on and help out in fixing it.

Reading is asking those who can afford it to put $20 a week toward his programme which would "really help to alleviate the problems before it really begins. Let's get it together and not pretend it isn't happening".

"It's a social obligation, we are all part of it. We need to reach out and help."

Reading has purchased a caravan, which he needs to pay off, and needs more food donations and places to serve the food when he was able to expand into other areas of Nelson, and start doing school lunches.

He says some of the stories he hears on Friday nights are heart-breaking.

He talks to children about what they usually have for dinner: "It's usually chips and maybe a pie. One kid said he only had vegetables when they came to the dinner.

"The people I see coming along are not mis-spending their money on booze. I can't see their social habits but there are people in really difficult situations. I had a lady whose husband has heart disease and five kids. They are legitimately struggling. Another elderly couple, he has a lump on his neck, it may be cancerous. They are struggling like anything. I see them in the supermarket and they are analysing everything."

He says it is gratifying seeing what a good meal does.

"I see the families come, when they first walk in the door on Friday, [and have] been through whatever they have been though. You can mark the difference when they eat the meal and leave smiling and full."

Poor housing has emerged as a major issue, with those interviewed in the series agreeing that a warrant of fitness on rental housing would help.

Nelson Tasman Housing Trust director Keith Preston says poor and unaffordable housing underpins so many aspects of a person and family's social and economic wellbeing.

"If the housing wasn't right then things went wrong - health, education crime, secure warm affordable housing underpinned everything."

Loveridge says Nelson has some "conscientious" landlords, who provide heatpumps and insulate homes, but more could be done.

Photographer Glenn Bisdee says he has been shocked and his eyes opened to some of the conditions Nelsonians are living in.

He has been visiting homes in need and installing donated wall panels in them, under a scheme he coined called Keeping Kids Warm.

Heaters had been given to families identified in need through Plunket and the Victory Community Centre - they were cheap and efficient to run.

"I've seen some pretty dire things"- like lack of lightbulbs, broken windows and kids running around without shoes or warm clothing.

"It's been an eye-opener in the quality of the houses and the lack of permanent heating systems, and the general depleted state of these places."

He also says a warrant of fitness on housing would benefit those who live in them and the landlords.

"The landlords would have an asset that is moving forward, rather than slowly running in to the ground."

He says the people who have received the heaters have been grateful, and he wants to be able to keep supplying them, but needs more funding to do so.

Jonathan Boston, co-author of Child Poverty in New Zealand, says child poverty is one of the biggest issues facing New Zealand and it needs to be tackled at many levels - but most importantly, at a government level.

"Evidence that deprivation for children when they are young is probably worse than when they are older. So we should be particularly concerned about early childhood deprivation, especially [when it is] severe and persistent."

There's evidence which shows children who grew up on welfare, for a "significant proportion" the benefit was not adequate for the necessities.

The longer a person spent on a low income, the more deprived they would be because they did not have assets to cover ongoing expenditures, or to get through life-changing events like relationship breakups, illness, accidents or when something broke.

As time went on, deprivation would have more serious impacts.

But there was no single solution.

"We need to recognise there are multiple reasons why families end up relatively poor and deprived. Sometimes circumstances are beyond a person's control. Sometimes they have contributed to it. We have to be mindful that there are many causes and therefore no single solution possible."

Welfare benefits were not generous and a significant proportion of people on them could not meet their basic requirements like food, housing and transport, he says.

"There's a funding issue there which needs to be addressed."

He says higher benefits as well as more encouragement to get people into work, but in a way that was in children's best interests, was crucial.

In his book, he has outlined a the need for a national plan to address the problem of child poverty.

A plan would set out clear goals for measuring poverty, reducing it and reporting on the progress in relation to the goals.

"The Government needs to own the issue and address it through strategy, reporting and legislation. And the public needs to hold them accountable as well."

The Nelson Mail will be following up issues that have been investigated in this series by investigating if and how implementing the living wage, currently at $18.80 an hour, could work in Nelson.

The Nelson Mail