'Self-sustainability an impossibility' for Pasifika families despite beneficiary boost

The head of a South Auckland housing provider says a $20 boost for beneficiaries will go a “little way” for Pasifika families in a “high-cost country like New Zealand”.

1st July, 2021

'Self-sustainability an impossibility' for Pasifika families despite beneficiary boost

By Elijah Fa'afiu - elijah.fa'afiu@pmn.co.nz

A $20 boost for beneficiaries will go a “little way” for Pasifika families in a “high-cost country like New Zealand”.

That’s the view of Bernie Smith, the head of South Auckland community housing provider, Monte Cecilia Housing Trust.

His comments follow a UMR opinion poll which suggests that a majority of Kiwis surveyed - 60 per cent - feel benefit rates should increase further, despite beneficiaries receiving that extra $20 from today.

“I take some delight in thinking that those that think that people are poor because of their own mistakes or people are homeless because they’ve made themselves homeless, has now changed their thinking that often it’s market-driven policies and increasing costs that are forcing families into poverty and homelessness,” says Smith.

Seven out of ten families which Monte Cecilia Housing Trust serves are Pasifika, looking to get into affordable and appropriate housing.

Smith says a $20 boost doesn't add much value because of increasing living costs.

“Because of high rent, because of fuel taxes, increase in power, all of these increases have just made self-sustainability an impossibility.”

For Pasifika families who are already behind the eight-ball, Smith says today’s beneficiary boost gives them a little bit more, but does nothing to get them ahead.

“I think that a $20 increase may help a family sustain their tenancy because rents have been increasing at a rapid pace over the last two or three years.

“The $20 may assist along with the grant that they get for power over winter, it may help create an opportunity to get some warm PJs for a child, but when you think of $20, that doesn’t even cover one set of PJs.”

It seems Kiwis agree, according to the UMR poll.

Child Poverty Action Group researcher Janet McAllister says New Zealanders feel the government's benefit increase is not enough to fix poverty.

“Our communities are still saying yes, the government has the social mandate to improve income support to the levels that we need, so having those incomes a bit better, isn’t yet good enough, people will still be in poverty.

“What this poll shows is that New Zealand understands that and the majority of people want the government to do what they should be doing, which is ensure that all communities have the resources they need to look after one another.”

In the first three months of this year, transport prices lifted by 3.9 per cent and Auckland’s rent prices increased by 2.7 per cent.

“It was not surprising to see that the majority of New Zealanders agree that income support needs to be lifted further,” McAllister says.

“Poverty is a serious issue, it’s complex and will require a huge amount of resources to alleviate and our communities, our people, our families, our children, we’re all worth it.

“We’re looking to the government to really massively increase the resources required to ensure that people can pay rent and have a good roof over their homes and ensure that they’ve got warm, healthy, secure housing and are being able to participate in society.”

The UMR poll surveyed 1,191 New Zealanders across salary groups, age ranges and renters and owners.

Monte Cecilia Housing Trust CEO, Bernie Smith. Photo/RNZ