MPs offices filled with distressed residents

TIM FULTON
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2014

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Christchurch's electorate offices are straining like never before, Wigram MP Megan Woods says.

People who would once have never felt the need for an MP were arriving highly distressed, having "reached the end of their tether" with earthquake fallout.

The city's electorates offices have received an additional $1.1 million of state funding since 2011.

The funding, had covered "additional staffing costs for eight Members of Parliament", Parliamentary Service said.

Woods, a Labour MP, said the caseload for her Wigram staff had become more challenging as people lost hope of finding a way out of earthquake holes.

Some people were sleeping in cars or other makeshift shelters, then coming into electorate offices to recover.

It was more than a case of people coming in for a cup of tea and biscuit on a cold morning. Electorate staff concerned at the mental health of some constituents were making referrals to wrap-around health services. It was "not uncommon" for people without a place to sleep to be referred to Work and Income, which could provide grants for emergency stays in motels or camping grounds.

Referrals to these grants - to be repaid as a deduction from Work and Income benefits - were "increasingly what we do".

Woods said her staff knew where to draw the line between giving support and acting as social workers. "We never were, and never are, social workers. My staff are really skilled at knowing where that stuff starts and finishes."

National MP Nicky Wagner said that as Christchurch Central MP her main role had been filling the gaps for people who felt disconnected from help. "There's people who can get into the system and manage it well, but there's people who can't".

The community-led Find and Fix Campaign highlighted the need, she said.

"This is the third year [and] there's still people who haven't managed to get into the system. I spend a lot of time talking to church groups, [asking] who is not sorted out, who needs a hand. Just trying to get the ones who fall through the cracks."

Wagner said her electorate staff had the most contact with constituents, as a "bit of a signpost, hold their hands, talk to them and get them through the process".

More encouragingly, the latest Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority Wellbeing Survey indicated that people who had dealt with insurance and Earthquake Commission claims felt well on the way to recovery. People were seeing their children coming home to the city for work and there was good news for people taking second jobs or moving into new homes.

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- The Press

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