Poverty our biggest growth industry - expert

New Zealand's biggest growth industry isn't agriculture or manufacturing – it's poverty, a Waikato University professor says

Social scientist, Professor Darrin Hodgetts, said New Zealand was "growing poverty".

"It's our growth industry and it's growing at three times the OECD average," Prof Hodgetts said ahead of a public lecture in Hamilton tonight.

He is an expert on homelessness and has researched the experiences of marginalised groups in New Zealand.

"Things like Working for Families have had an impact but they haven't stopped the growth and the OECD figures are pretty conservative," he said.

New Zealand had gone from one of the most equitable societies – in terms of income distribution – to one of the worst.

"And the cracks are getting bigger. The problem is we don't see these things as a human rights issue." He said the Government was quite happy to rely on food banks to feed people.

"We signed a declaration with the United Nations that says food is a human right and people should have it, yet we don't provide a living wage and a lot of people don't have access to enough food.

"We need to have a frank conversation about that."

Prof Hodgetts is two months into an Auckland-based study called Family 100, interviewing 100 struggling families in the region about their experiences.

"There's lots of conversations about families in need and lots of opinions about what goes on in these households. but there's a lack of research about the realities.

"It's no good endlessly talking about those families without actually engaging with them. When you do you realise that a lot of these people are good parents who are really concerned about their kids and they're doing their best."

Information about poverty needed to be fed into any discussion about solutions, otherwise "we are just going to keep coming up with punitive responses that don't work."

Prof Hodgetts' lecture Working Towards a Socially Relevant, Responsive and Engaged Societal Psychology will be held tonight from 6pm at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts. Lectures are free and open to the public.

nicola.brennan@waikatotimes.co.nz

Waikato Times