There is a lot of talk in the media lately about the growing gap between the ‘Rich and the Poor’ – the ‘Haves and the Have Nots.’ The New Zealand Herald ran with a story this week on the effect that public concerns about inequality and poverty will have on the coming election.
The annual NBR Rich List was published last week, showing that over 200 New Zealanders are together worth more than $80 billion, and the average worth on those on the list is $150 million. The median household wealth in New Zealand is $289,000, but there are thousands of families where poverty and debt are their reality.
Given this information, it seems timely for me to start a blog series to introduce the many advantaged Kiwis in this country to the harsh reality too many families are facing daily. It is a reality that I am not sure most Kiwis will ever understand or even accept exists within our country. We may hear and see of it in the media, but it all remains at a distance from our comfortable reality as we get on with our busy and fortunate day-to-day lives.
My connections with RAW and Women’s Refuge have led me to be supporting a young family who are truly struggling to survive their reality. Having regular contact with them has allowed me witness the cruel inequality that does exist in New Zealand on a daily basis. Those trapped in the poverty cycle must endure their struggle as it is their ‘normal’ and in large they do so without complaint as their expectations are not high.
INEQUALITY is this country’s greatest challenge. As the division between the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have-Nots’ continues to widen, we are seeing the creation of a division in New Zealand society that for decades we so proudly believed would never occur.
The mum I am supporting is a victim of a life lived in a very challenging environment where gangs, crime, drugs and violence have been the building blocks of her life journey to date. She is now twenty seven and is a part of our RAW programme, travelling a journey of a relatively functional life for the last two years.
A much anticipated and loved child recently arrived in the middle of this cold Waikato winter. The house she is renting is substandard by anyone’s means. Walls are falling in, cupboard fronts have dropped off and the section fence was a roll of barbed wire – the landlord and council apparently in a battle as to cost and responsibility. Her rent payment history hasn’t been exemplary in the past, so the landlord pays little mind to her real and fair requests. There is no insulation so her baby arrives home and they move into one room to keep her warm.
The midwife is barely there – I think she came twice in five weeks – and this young mum is really inexperienced with baby care and the struggles begin. She soldiers on, as she is a survivor, and this time I am there in support – together we conquer the challenges of breastfeeding, milk flow and quality and mastitis, and I become immersed in her life.
So this becomes a blog on her daily struggles to really demonstrate how the other half lives in this country.
Sure she gets a benefit – $490 is her weekly payment from WINZ – her rent is $325, and power is $66. She is prudent enough to pre-pay this weekly, although she was threatened with cut off from a big power company this week because prepayments were $59 short for the month. A challenge occurs as she deliberates on whether to short pay the rent, or have the power cut off – the obvious answer is an appointment with WINZ to seek some assistance to pay the ludicrous $59 bill – but time is of the essence and the appointment takes two weeks to come to fruition. The money, if she is successful in getting it, will then be taken from her benefit by a small loan repayment each week – yes she has to rob Peter to pay Paul – there are no wins for her here. RAW pays the $59 dollars to solve the problem.
So that leaves us $100 to shop. On my crusade to get her and baby healthy and boost milk production through healthy food choices, we set off to the local Countdown Supermarket to do her shopping one Sunday afternoon. She is nervous as to how this will go, given her limited and very finite budget. I knew I could always top up any shortfall, but I really wanted to get her thinking differently about the contents of her weekly shop – so we communicate, and she relaxes.
Knowing that the white bread and mint chocolate biscuits that I have observed her eating were never going to be great food for her baby, I was committed to food change, as was she. As she has no transport, I pick her up – we have a one hour window with baby just fed and tucked up sleeping and in the care of family. We arrive at the supermarket – and it is the fruit and veggie section first. Determined to fill the trolley with these, we start, and as one who barely shops (my partner has mastered this role) I take little note of the price tickets – surely seasonal fruit and veggies must be cheap in this country, especially at the supermarket – it goes without saying doesn’t it? The young Mum freaks out – ‘I never buy these, I can’t afford them.’ We push on, with a few offerings in the trolley. Show me what you buy, I say. We target the home brands – OMG, you can get a bag of biscuits for $1.89, a bag of cornflakes for $2, and white bread $1 a loaf – I suggest we compromise. I am happy to put some of my money into this demonstrative shop.
We start shopping – she trusts my choices, and is happy to try new things. I look for all the healthy choice specials, and think about the meals to be made each night. I try to convince her we don’t need meat each night – she is not persuaded. We buy no meat in this shop – we get seasonal fruit and veggies, beans, yoghurt, cheese, oats for breakfast and lots, lots more. Finally we get to the personal effects section and I ask about her shampoo brand – she laughs. ‘I don’t buy it, I can’t afford deodorant, shampoo etc.’ I load the trolley – my shout. We get body wash, deodorant, family shampoo and conditioner, and some baby products.
We arrive at the check-out and the total is $189. Removing the treats I have decided to add, the total shop is $125 – but no meat this time. We decide to have another ago next week, but I’m amazed you can get so much for so little – our trolley was full.
Ironically I stop on the way home to pick up a few things at our local supermarket and manage to spend $62 on four items – this small splurge would have been the meat shop for the young family.
I once again ponder the two different lives I have experienced during my day. I resign myself to the knowledge that the young mother and her child will be well fed for the next few days, and I look forward to receiving the photos that she has promised to send me of the meals.