Violence, poverty 'shame'

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 13:00 12/02/2014
Jill Knight
MARTIN DE RUYTER/Fairfax NZ
CALL TO ACTION: Major Jill Knight with the Salvation Army’s State of the Nation report that says more action is needed to combat social problems such as child poverty.

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Stresses from low wages and seasonal work can lead to domestic violence and child poverty in the region, local experts say.

They are urging residents to campaign for action on such issues during election year.

Their comments follow today's release of the Salvation Army's State of the Nation report that says New Zealanders were all but ignoring children in poverty, domestic violence and violent crime.

The report, Striking a Better Balance, said there was "credible progress" in some areas of social wellbeing, such as infant mortality and teenage pregnancy, but a lack of willingness by successive governments to deal with other crucial issues.

It showed the number of substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect in New Zealand had risen 3.7 per cent to 22,984. The number of offences against children, including violence, mistreatment or neglect, had risen 1.3 per cent to 5212.

Domestic violence in general increased over the five years to last year and still a large amount of violence was going unreported.

There were more than 30,000 domestic violence offences each year which accounted for about 60 per cent of all violent offences.

The report said it was up to New Zealanders to take these issues seriously and demand change, and experts in Nelson agree.

Salvation Army Community Ministries Nelson Tasman Bay manager Jill Knight said the report was reflective of problems in Nelson.

She saw people "at crisis point" and she put a lot of this down to low wages and a reliance on seasonal work.

"Families that have regular income may be sort of okay, it might be sunshine wages but it's regular; but for seasonal work, if it's a wet day people don't get paid, and because it's seasonal work they only earn on the day they work, it's not an easy situation," she said.

"Most of the families we see are trying to do the right thing, but they are spending more than half their income on rent and then there's the power."

She said that did not leave much, if anything, for food. Added expenses such as school uniforms, book, and medical costs all added to tension and stress in families, which could led to addiction issues and domestic violence.

There was also no way of planning ahead and saving.

The Nelson Salvation Army was seeing a steady rise in people using its services, including taking emergency food parcels - with about 20 people coming in a day.

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New Zealanders needed to feel "a sense of shame" about levels of child poverty and domestic violence to do something about it.

"It's up to people in the community to write letters to politicians, enough is enough, it's a shame we have this situation, we are a proud nation."

Whakatu Marae chief executive Trevor Wilson said he "absolutely" agreed with the report's findings that New Zealanders needed to take more interest in the problems of child poverty and domestic violence and it was important to tackle the underlying causes.

Domestic violence in particular was the "bubbling out" of underlying issues, and was "intrinsically linked" to child poverty. It was often the result of stresses, and low wages were often a cause of stress, he said.

"We have sunshine wages, therefore, people don't have the income, they make rash decisions, they will survive for about three or four weeks then spend their money on a night out."

He agreed with the report's findings that there needed to be pressure put on the political parties this year to tackle New Zealand's problems with domestic violence and child poverty.

"I think as a community agency we [all] work really well together to prevent domestic violence; however the support from the government agencies is often fraught."

Mr Wilson believed the Nelson region was on a par with other areas over levels of domestic violence and child poverty.

He said there were areas of Nelson where child poverty was rife and there was a growing gap between the rich and poor, but often child poverty went unnoticed.

"The full poverty of the child is often unseen, they don't have a voice, it's usually up to the schools to pick it up."

Nelson Tasman Housing Trust director Keith Preston said poor and unaffordable housing was at the source of many social problems such as child poverty and domestic violence, as housing underpinned so many aspects of a person and family's social and economic wellbeing.

Either costly or insufficient housing had flow-on effects, such as alcohol abuse, child abuse, poverty, health issues, crime and domestic violence, for example.

If people were in better affordable housing it meant they had more disposable income to spend on a better quality of life, and their family's lives, he said.

The trust aimed to help people with lower to middle incomes who could not qualify for state housing or entering the private sector.

The trust receives more than a 5 per cent contribution to its activities and the Government has contributed up to 50 per cent of the cost of its recent schemes in Nelson.

To date, the trust had 42 households in the Nelson region. It also provides housing for those in emergency situations for up to two weeks.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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