Demand for help remains high

Demand for food parcels and other social services remains high in Timaru, but agencies are uncertain whether an increased living wage would be the answer.

Salvation Army Major Murray Sanson said the local branch recorded 1065 food parcel deliveries for 2012, below 2011's peak of 1715, but well above 2009's total of 818.

"There were obvious reasons why 2011 was such an aberration. Timaru's population was flooded with people from Christchurch in the wake of the earthquakes, and their requirements were so varied," he said.

"The economy is still in the doldrums in many parts of the region. But people in Timaru are very good at supporting people in times of need."

Mr Sanson's comments come in the wake of the Salvation Army national branch's release of its annual "State of the Nation" report yesterday.

The report expressed concerns about the lack of progress over the past five years in addressing the issues of affordable housing, reducing child poverty and providing work for young people.

Mr Sanson said housing availability had become an increasing concern in Timaru.

"But it's always going to be at the top of your thoughts. Having a roof over your head should always be your first priority," he said.

There had been more than 100 requests for food parcels last month, about 20 per cent more than January 2012, but Mr Sanson said the period after Christmas always fluctuated.

He was unsure about the National Service and Food Workers Union's proposal for the Government to introduce a minimum living wage of $18.40.

"Many small businesses are also doing it tough.

"People also need to work with the money they have, many get sucked into unnecessary debts."

Timaru Community Ministries manager Jane Ferguson said some people working fulltime for the minimum wage earned only slightly more than if they were on a benefit.

"If the living wage was adopted by employers, then people would be able to participate positively in their community," she said.

"Everything takes time, but our society at present is hurting."

Family Support South Canterbury manager Miriana Anglem said the social support agency dealt with a lot of people in the region earning less than the proposed "living wage" and they managed really well.

"They survive but their priorities are their children who they give everything they can while they miss out themselves," she said.

However, Ms Anglem said she was pleased the issue of a living wage was raising awareness of the economic situation.

The Timaru Herald