Help the poor, don't judge them

Last updated 05:30 26/06/2013
poverty generic
Fairfax NZ
LIVES IN POVERTY: Many New Zealanders have illnesses that have been eradicated from other first world countries.

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I used to be of the opinion that there was no real poverty in NZ. We have a welfare system, we have houses and access to food. Surely there cannot be starving children or families without power. 

The thing I have learnt is that we do have poverty. It's not the third world poverty that others consider poverty to be, but we don't live in a third world country so we cannot compare ourselves to them.

It's winter, and for some with well insulated, clean, dry houses, it's manageable. The power bill increases but only a little and we will be unlucky if we suffer a cold.

For others there is a real fear the power won't last all winter because there is no extra money to pay these increasing bills.

The house is drafty, damp, cold and mouldy, but it's all the family can afford.

The kids get sick but there is no money for the GP so the children get worse. Other members of the family who all live in a cramped house share the bugs because they all share the same spaces. The whole family gets ill.

Who has the money to pay for a few adults and a few kids to go to the doctor? So things are left. They get sicker, they end up in hospital and the health sector becomes overwhelmed. Surely this can be prevented.

It can all start in a clean, dry, warm house, an affordable one. One that isn't three-quarters of your income. 

It's no wonder places are overcrowded when you are being charged $300-$500 per week in rent alone. Then there is food, power and water.

There is the argument that many should save for such an event, have an "emergency fund" but if there is no extra to spend, how are they meant to save?

The money to pay the power has to come from somewhere and the place that has the most ability to fiddle with the budget is always the food bill.

Then you see a finance ad on TV. It screams at you: "Consolidate debt! Low weekly repayments!" 

You see happy people and you think its worth a shot, let's pay this power bill, let's catch up on the rent, the water, let's get some winter clothes for the kids, let's take the kids to the doctor, let's fill the cupboard. I've found a way to make it all better. You're vulnerable, it's so easy to see the good and not allow yourself to be aware of anything that can go wrong.

You think you've fixed your family, and for the short term you have. You're up to date on the rent, the bills, you've done a full food shop and filled the cupboards for the first time that you can remember in a very very long time, the kids are well, everyone is happy.

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Until the car breaks down. You're back up shit creek again.

The mood of the house deflates fast. The kids can tell you are struggling again. You're not sleeping, you're depressed, sad, scared and worried.

Another TV ad screams: "Get the money now! Pay us back on payday!"

An answer to your prayers? You fail to read the fine print. The huge loan fee, the huge interest that turns your $500 that you borrow one week into $800 that you pay back in two week's time. The huge penalties for not paying it back in time, the interest that increases substantially daily.

Two loans taken out for the most genuine reasons. You wanted help, you thought this was the only way, but now you have huge repayments, interest rapidly increasing, debt collectors at the door, scared children, angry adults, hunger, cold, and still staying in that damp, cold, mouldy old house that you haven't paid rent in for the past month and may be evicted out of soon. Then where will you go? 

Seeing your children go to school in barefeet in the middle of winter because their shoes broke and you can't afford to buy them new ones. 

Saying to them to stay home from school today because you don't have anything to give them to take for lunch. 

Making excuses as to why your child can't go on that school camp, trip, outing, why their school uniform is falling apart and you can't get a new one, and trying to hold yourself up when people look down on you, when all you want is for the floor to swallow you up. 

It's a very real cycle that people get caught in. It's a very real situation for many people.

When you lose hope, when you have nowhere else to turn.

When you try to do the best by your family but they keep getting sick, they demand more and you have less, when you try so hard to pull yourself out of it, and you are tired, so tired of trying to tell people that you do look after your family, you just can't see how people get out of a situation like this.

When you talk yourself down, see yourself as a failure - to your family, your home, yourself, society. 

You'd love to learn how to garden as you don't know how, but you don't know where to go. You'd love to learn how to eat better, but you don't know how to make that work on your budget and you don't know who can help you.

You stop trying. Your kids stop trying. The spiral continues.

Debt, poor housing, poor health, wrong food, no hope, no education equals poverty.

Judging those in situations like this, it's not doing anyone any favours. Don't compare yourself to others, don't assume that they haven't tried all they have needed to try, don't think that if you can do it they can too.

Hold out your hand, and pull them to their feet again. Guide them, help them. 




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