March 29, 2016
Around 50 people from high school and university students to the chief economist of New Zealand Treasury took part in the McGuinness Institute “Tackling Poverty” workshop in Queenstown, kick-starting what is to become a New Zealand roadshow tour towards solutions for this growing nationwide issue.
Catalyst Trust approached McGuinness Institute in the wake of their TacklingPovertyNZ three-day workshop at Treasury last December to trigger the conversation at a local level. Six participants from this workshop came to give national context to the issue in Queenstown, alongside Treasury chief economist Dr Girol Karacaoglu and Dame Diane Robertson, chair of the Data Futures Partnership and former chief executive of Auckland City Mission. Nicky Mason from Happiness House and Salvation Army’s Hine Marchand provided the local context before participants spent the afternoon workshopping the issues and potential solutions.
It was pointed out that poverty is not just an economic issue. Girol said Treasury is now looking at issues through a “living standards framework,” which acknowledged the need to integrate economic, social and environmental factors. Poverty also impacted on people’s ability to participate in and contribute to the community.
Dame Diane said the fact that after 22 years at the mission, poverty was continuing to grow caused her “great despair”. The government needed to look at poverty differently. There was a distinction between what policy said was good for people and what people experienced. Work might generally be good for people, but perhaps not for the solo mum who could only find night work, had no car, received the minimum wage and had to therefore leave her children in an unsafe environment. Debt was a major issue and “financial literacy” would not work unless there was also debt consolidation.
To make traction on getting out of debt/poverty, people needed adequate housing, adequate food and an adequate, sustainable income “because unless they have that, they can’t concentrate on anything else.” 90% of those in poverty are woman who don’t have partners who support them, Dame Diane added.
High rent and living costs, low and unreliable income were the primary problems for those in poverty in Queenstown, Nicky and Hine said. While many couldn’t afford to stay – others did not have the money or wherewithal to leave. Poverty was particularly hard on relationships and children. Communication breakdowns were common and counselling too costly. Isolation and loneliness were part of the problem. Homelessness was often related to mental health issues.
To find out more about the national conversation, see www.tacklingpovertynz.org
McGuinness Institute will produce a report from the Queenstown workshop, to be given to Treasury and Queenstown Lakes District Council. It will also form part of the overall response from the TacklingPovertyNZ roadshow being held throughout this year.
Treasury Chief Economist Dr Girol Karacaoglu discussing issues at the workshop, including with Wakatipu High School economics students, past and present.