The Auckland City Mission has listened to the stories of 100 families who are long-term food bank users in order to better understand the factors that trap some families in a repeating cycle of poverty. Speaking For Ourselves – The Truth About What Keeps People In Poverty From Those Who Live IT (a summary report drawn from the Family 100 Research Project data) brings the voices of these 100 families, both individually and collectively, into the public domain.

Text from The Auckland City Mission.

This report clearly highlights the plight of those living in poverty in their own words, and defines the eight key drivers that keep people locked into a state of constant financial hardship: Debt, justice, housing, employment, health, food insecurity, services and education. Speaking for Ourselves also highlights families’ key concerns, and their views on what would make a difference for them to stand a better chance to free themselves from poverty.

With a prevailing opinion held by many that those living in poverty do so simply because they lack the initiative to free themselves from it, there is little impetus or pressure to address what is for many thousands of New Zealand families a desperate and deteriorating set of circumstances.

Ultimately, it is hoped that two key outcomes result through the dissemination of this publication. The first is that the Auckland City Mission, along with other service providers, will be better able to support their clients as they try to meet the daily challenges they face. And the second is to bring the experiences of beneficiaries and low-paid workers into the public domain, and to encourage constructive conversations with people on low incomes rather than divisive rhetoric about them.

The key changes we need to see:

Families tell us that paying a ‘poverty premium’ for expensive credit offered by second tier and ‘fringe lenders’ is keeping them poor. They say that access to affordable credit in the forms of microfinance schemes or low-interest bank loans would be of great help, as would capping the interest rates charged by all lenders.

Families speak about the serious impact of having a family member in prison. They ask that this be considered when fining or imprisoning people, as the act of doing so affects more than just that person. Our participants with family members in prison would also like to see prison family visiting areas humanised to enable parents to engage with their children in a suitable environment.

Our families also speak about how a criminal record can permanently impede their ability to gain employment. We also hear how a lack of knowledge about the Clean Slate Act, and the complex processes required to engage with it, prevent people pursuing this course. Families would like more information and support to be made available around this option.

Low-income families tell us they want the same things all families want – a house that is dry, warm and secure. It is clear from our families’ accounts that a minimum standard for all rental accommodation, both for HNZ properties and private rentals, must be set.

Workplace agreements that do not assure people of regular income can lead to situations where hours drop suddenly leaving people without sufficient money to cover their expenses.

Participants tell us that tougher monitoring of casual or “As-And-When-Required” contracts would give them more security and protection.

Furthermore, the levels of income for people on benefits and employed on salaries that are close to the minimum wage are so low that it is almost impossible to move out of poverty.

Our families tell us that income levels, including the minimum wage and base benefit levels, must be reviewed to ensure that the most basic human needs of food, shelter, healthcare and education may be met without the need for them to take on crippling and unsustainable debt just to make ends meet.

The majority of participants view dental care as simply unaffordable, often with disastrous consequences to both social interactions and employment opportunities. Families tell us that this issue must be addressed with subsidised dental care provided for those on the lowest of incomes, and that health care for low income families and those receiving benefits should be free of charge.

Families talk in great detail about the challenges they face when providing school lunches for their school age children. They note school food programmes are a help, but that accessing them can be highly stigmatising. They say that feeding all children in decile 1 and 2 schools would help to combat this.

Families receiving WINZ benefits would also like to see processes streamlined for those who have no entitlements left to be referred to food banks.

We hear time and time again that people feel the service systems designed to support those living in financial hardship are actually preventing them from moving forward. We also hear that the complex support service landscape is not meeting the needs of many people. It’s time consuming and dehumanising to engage with, and it reinforces a lack of self-esteem and selfworth in those who are forced to navigate it.

Our families tell us that a review to improve the types and quality of interactions between people and service providers is greatly needed. They add that support services should adopt a more client-centered focus, and make attempts to better understand the complexity and difficulty of the lives of those who use their services. Systems that enable staff to capture a person’s history would save people from the laborious task of constantly having to repeat their information.

Participants speak about the impact that the 2009 axing of the Training Incentive Allowance has had on their plans for the future. Our families tell us that they believe the government should reinstate the allowance, which would allow sole parent beneficiaries to gain higher tertiary qualifications and move into the labour market, obtaining a more secure future for their families. Another common frustration encountered is that training and educational courses do not lead to employment. Families tell us one way this situation could be addressed is that course providers who receive government subsidies must guarantee sustainable employment outcomes. Those course providers that cannot or will not guarantee such outcomes should

Read the full report here.