High rents hurting benefit strugglers

SARAH YOUNG
Last updated 12:30 18/02/2012

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People on benefits are struggling to find enough money for food and other basics, as budget services and other agencies in the district strive to meet the demand for help.

Nelson Budget Service manager Marina Gosnell said the service, which was contracted to help 350 a year, was seeing a lot more people than usual.

"We have just reached that 350 mark and we're only seven months into the [financial] year. It's well and truly over what we would usually see."

For people on benefits, especially sickness or unemployment, making ends meet was very difficult, and often there was "nothing left for life", she said.

"It's really tight, especially in Nelson, because rents are so high. Power is also not cheap here.

"[The benefit is] not a lot of money, and sometimes the rent takes it all and there's hardly anything left over for food."

Some people they saw only had between $12 and $60 for food for a week.

Rent could be up to $250 to $300 a week for a house, and while things were slightly easier for those who were flatting, those living on their own were paying about a minimum of $160 and had next to nothing left over for food, power or anything else, she said.

For those on the unemployment benefit, who received about $200 a week, this was particularly difficult, Ms Gosnell said.

"I know people are really looking for work, but there's just no work around.

"And these people are not actually spending much.

"We look at their budget and see there's nothing there– we can't say they're spending a lot on alcohol or cigarettes, because they're not.

"It's really hard out there for a lot of people, especially those with little children at this time of year, having to buy school books and decent clothes."

Many people were having to go back to Work and Income New Zealand for additional food grants or advances on their benefits, she said.

"Winz will say they should have budgeted for things like school books, but there's nothing in the budget to save for it."

Salvation Army community ministries worker Mike Goodman said demand had been increasing steadily for the past two years, with more people coming through the door than ever.

The service had taken on the equivalent of one fulltime employee, as well as additional volunteers, to help, he said.

The Salvation Army was also seeing a wider range of clients.

"Clientele we don't normally see are starting to turn up – people on low incomes, not just beneficiaries. They're people for whom it's out of the norm to come, and it's quite a hard thing for them to actually come in through the door," Mr Goodman said.

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Community Food Bank supervisor Mike Gibson said demand had been less than expected over the last week or two, but he expected this to increase now school had started back. The service would have helped about 90 to 100 families during the month of February, which was about average, he said.

Last November, the service had got quite low on funds and had been starting to cancel meat orders, until a large collection by Nelson West Rotary Club members filled the cupboards again in December.

However, this would only last so long, he said.

The weekly bill, including meat, could be about $700, he said.

The Salvation Army's state-of-the-nation report, The Growing Divide, released yesterday, suggests a growing proportion of the population is increasingly being sidelined from mainstream economic and social life.

The report says one in three Maori children is likely to live in relative poverty, compared with one in four Pacific children and one in six Pakeha children.

Manuka Early Learning Centre manager Nga Pare Jay said staff had noticed a large increase in families struggling to make ends meet, "even to the point where parents are unable to bring lunches for their children".

The non-profit centre had been providing lunch, out of its own funds, for about five out of the 24 families using the centre, she said.

Work and Income New Zealand regional commissioner Lynne Williams said the Nelson Tasman office was not seeing a marked increase in people asking for food grants, however more people were looking for financial help that could be paid back.

Clients who received three food grants within one year would be asked to complete a budget before any more were granted, she said.

Nelson Tasman Bays Salvation Army captain Tim Malton said there was also high demand for the Army's budget service, which started about a year ago.

The changes introduced in 2010, requiring people to do a budget if they sought emergency hardship funds more than three times, meant this demand would continue to increase.

"So that's probably what's putting a lot more pressure on as well which isn't a bad thing but there is more pressure on community agencies dealing with budgeting."

AT A GLANCE

How much do you get each week? Sickness benefit: Single $201, couple $168 each. Invalids: Single $251, couple $209 each. Unemployment: Single $201, couple $168 each.

Domestic purposes benefit: Sole parent $288. These can be supplemented by other allowances and subsidies, such as disability allowances and accommodation supplements.

Number of people on all benefits, aged between 18-64, in Nelson, Stoke and Richmond: December 2011: 5059 – up 1.5 per cent from 2010, up 13 per cent from 2006.

Breakdown Unemployment benefit: December 2011: 907 – up 11.4 per cent from 2010, up 184 per cent from 2006. Of these, 75 per cent were male. The majority, 37 per cent, were aged between 18 and 24. Sickness benefit: December 2011: 900 – up 0.3 per cent from 2010, up 26 per cent from 2006.

Of these, 59 per cent were male, with the majority, 36 per cent, aged between 40 and 54. The main reason was psychological or psychiatric conditions, at 53 per cent.

Invalids benefit: December 2011: 1389 – down 7.2 per cent from 2010, down 21 per cent from 2006. Of these, 51 per cent were female, with the majority, 41 per cent, aged 40-54.

The main reason was psychological and psychiatric conditions, at 33 per cent, followed by intellectual disability on 23 per cent. Sixty per cent had been on a benefit for 10 years or more.

Domestic purposes benefit: December 2011: 1712 – up 3.7 per cent from 2010, up 13.8 per cent from 2006. Hardship assistance: Of the 962,000 people who received benefits, superannuation, veteran's pension or other assistance from Work and Income at the end of February 2010: 119,000 received hardship payments on one or two occasions in the previous 12 months.

66,000 received hardship payments on three to five occasions during the previous 12 months.37,000 received hardship payments on six or more occasions during the previous 12 months.

- The Nelson Mail

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