The BBC reports today that ‘throughout her tempestuous first term as New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern has maintained a message of kindness. But many Maori and Pacifica live in shocking poverty.
‘But as she seeks another term in power, critics say that it will take more than kindness and charisma to get the economy on its feet and lift tens of thousands of people out of poverty,’ writes the BBC’s Shaimaa Khalil.
‘The phrase “be strong, be kind” became a trademark of Ms Ardern’s leadership at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
‘Shaimea Khalil quotes says Agnes Magele, a Pacifica-origin single mother of three who lives in South Auckland, the poorest area in New Zealand’s biggest city:
“Where I come from there’s no kindness happening,”
Ms Magele also says she doesn’t feel like she’s part of the “team of five million”- another phrase coined by Ms Ardern when referring to the population of New Zealand.
“Is it kind when people don’t have enough money to buy basic essentials, such as food, for their children? Is it kind when parents have to skip meals so their kids have a bigger portion?” Ms Magele asks.
Ms Magele, who volunteers with Auckland Action Against poverty, an organisation that advocates for low income families to help them navigate the welfare system, has seen this in the families she helps.
She told the BBC that in her poor neighbourhood of Otara in South Auckland with a large Maori and Pacifica population, many people have been forced into homelessness because their income or benefits don’t cover their rent.
She said the combination of low benefits and high rent has made it impossible for thousands of families, like hers, to make ends meet.
“Sometimes my kids don’t like going to school because they’re not in the correct school uniform and they don’t have enough lunch to go to school with. That really does a lot to children’s mental well-being,” Ms Magele says.
Maori and Pacifica in poverty
The BBC report goes on to say: “Poverty is remarkably high in Maori and Pacifica households, with nearly 1 in 4 (23.3%) of Maori children and nearly 1 in 3 (28.6%) of Pacific children living in material hardship.
“These are sobering numbers and in many ways jar with New Zealand’s global image of prosperity and general stability.
“European/white New Zealanders have a very different life experience to our Maori or Pacifica citizens,” Unicef NZ executive director Vivien Maidaborn told the BBC journalist.
Ms Maidaborn added that the white experience in New Zealand, which is predominantly much more financially stable, is taken as the mainstream when actually it’s very different from many other parts of the population.
The tipping point
The BBC report also quotes Brad Olsen, a senior economist with Infometrics, an economics analysis think tank: “New Zealand has now approached a tipping point when it comes to housing,” says Olsen.
Mr Olsen says that the number of people trying to get into government funded housing went from 4,000 between 2014-2016 to 20,000 in the years that followed.
“That highlights how precarious and under how much pressure these families are,” he explains.
He adds that it’s not only a lack of houses but the fact that those which already exist are substandard.
“A lot of the time the housing quality is poor. That reinforces some of the issues with poverty. People with healthcare (problems) not able to stay warm and dry or feed the kids because they’re trying to put more money into heating or to take the children to the doctor,” says Mr Olsen.