Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I just have to say

.and I don't usually do the opinionated rant thang on my blog so this should be taken as a mark of how seriously I have a feeling of disquiet...

Its all to do with this:
http://www.3news.co.nz/Lunchbox-differences-in-decile-1-and-decile-10-schools/tabid/367/articleID/269617/Default.aspx which aired on Campbell Live last night about child poverty in New Zealand.

I burst out crying.  Not a word of a lie - I was overwhelmed at the tragedy of this situation.

That being said, I've seen a few posts about it on Facebook today and I am angry at the judgement being levelled at poor families.  While it is true that there are some people who would rather prioritise the pokies, booze, fags and drugs over good food for their kids, is it really so hard to believe that this isn't the situation with the majority of poor families??

How do I know this?  Because I am lucky enough (yup you read that right) to have grown up experiencing both sides of the coin - both severe poverty (we're talking living on a council estate where our car got set on fire right out the front, used needles in the bus stop, stabbings, drug dealing 10 metres from my front door) and genuine wealth (we're talking private school, fancy clothes and ballet lessons)

What I want you to know is this.  Being poor is hard because the odds are stacked against you.  If you can't pay your power bill, you get cut off and then you have to pay an exorbitant fee to get reconnected.  Being on the minimum wage makes it hard to have credit or borrow money - so if you need the dentist, or your car needs work you have to find that money yourself or go to a loan shark, pay ridiculous interest which of course guarantees your poverty for years to come.

Being poor grinds you down - constant worry about how to pay for the basics, worrying about your children's safety in the community, worrying about job security - because a lot of low paid jobs are casual or part time or temporary and when your poor you take what you can get and hope it lasts....and the list goes on - worry about your home - cheap rental properties are generally poorly maintained, damp, etc - that's why they are cheap, but you take what you can get and hope you and your family survive a winter without too much ill health, not too much time off work.

Taking the power bill versus food scenario (loosely based on my experience) I would just like you to imagine for a minute that your choices are:

Option 1 Pay your power bill today in full or else it gets cut off, and you can't get reconnected until you find the money for the entire bill and the reconnection fee - this could take weeks; or

Option 2 Buy food for the week, but have no hot water, no heating for three.

Option 3 Go to WINZ and ask for help.  Stand in a queue for 4 hours with a crying hungry baby.  Get a caseworker who shames and ridicules you for being the most stupid human being on the whole planet (I don't know why - this is just their MO), provide proof that you are in fact poor and no you haven't spent your wages at the Casino.  Finally get WINZ to help you, 6 hours later rush to a post office to pay your bill before it closes and use their phone to call the power company (you're poor right - you have no home phone) - rush home to cook nothing, because you spent all day sorting out how you were going to pay your power and now all the buses to the supermarket have finished for the day (remember - you're poor - you don't have a car).

Note - I'm preempting those who say borrow off a family member.  I think you'll find that poverty extends across families - so no the 'Bank of Mum and Dad' is not an option.  Neither is a real bank for that matter - if you're on the minimum wage you don't earn enough to have a credit card or an overdraft.

They aren't nice choices are they?  Of course you try for option 3 but are you getting a sense of how this grinds you down?  Some people face these challenges every week - every week.  They aren't bad parents.  They don't have their priorities wrong.  They just don't have a lot to work with.  They are exhausted by life, they are ground down and ridiculed for being poor and yet - amazingly some of them find the will and the way to pull themselves out of the poverty trap.  They get free.

And its not an easy thing - because at every turn the odds are stacked against you.  You live life on a knife edge - just one event - job loss, major illness even your car breaking down can cause massive flow on effects which take years and years to recover from.  There is no whacking it on the credit card and paying it off over the coming months.  There is no getting a 'cash price' - because often there isn't the money there up front.  Hire purchase was made for the poor - its making money off people who just can't afford to save and have no other choice but to pay interest.  Yup - makes me angry.

Imagine being in that situation and hearing and seeing the comments from some people who have never dreamed of having to consider such unpalatable options around how 'they must have their priorities wrong'.  Its just nonsense to judge and make comments like that and do nothing to help..thanks to better off New Zealanders the poor are made to feel like even bigger losers.

I could give you loads of anecdotes about being poor:

  • How my mother lied about my age so I could get a job part time job at 13 and contribute to the family income.
  • How I used to wash my hair in cold water because at 15 my parents decreed that I could pay for my own hot water (you feed money into a slot machine under the stairs).  I spent my money on a bus pass in the winter, rather than a hot shower.  I could get warm water out of the jug and use a sinkful for washing my body.
  • I didn't eat breakfast, got a Marmite sandwich and sometimes a cheap piece of fruit for lunch every day, sometimes I would buy myself a slice from the tuck shop but at least Mum always had a hot meal for us at night. 
  • Mum buying 125grams of mince to feed three people and telling the butcher to give her the cheap stuff as it was 'for the cat' - she was too embarrassed to admit that was our evening meal.  

My family and I - we got free.  I worked hard.  I paid for my own tertiary education and I am so thankful. My life experience has given me a wealth that transcends money and I am grateful.

We have extreme budget mince and sausages weeks.  We have weeks were we buy a great range of protein and vege and fruit - treats even like grapes and frozen blueberries.  I always give thanks because we can afford protein, fresh fruit and vege - whatever week we're in.

Its not nice to judge. Just sayin.  If you are one of those people thinking its not that hard to send kids to school with something other than a bag of chips - I invite you to do a little research on poverty before you make judgement.  Better than that - do something about it.  Be the change you wish to see in the world.

  The extent of poverty in NZ right now is a tragedy - but so is the mis-perception from the better off.

Right.  Rant over.  Back tomorrow with some actual news and pictures and crafty stuff.  Thanks for sticking in there


  1. <3 you! And yep, can relate to so much of what you've said. x

  2. Hey Nin,
    Thanks for this post. I too have been following the 'lunchbox debate' on Campbell Live and it makes me feel extraordinarily sad :(
    I have been fortunate enough to always have had enough to eat and a warm place to sleep (though we were by no means rich when I was a kid, and we aren't now).
    It was really interesting to read through your 'options' it helped me to understand what people go through.
    I must admit, when I try to never moan and groan about heaving bags of groceries up our many outside stairs on a rainy day - I always feel thankful I can go to the supermarket and put most things I want into my trolley. How many people on earth can do that?
    If some kind of school lunch scheme can help these kids and families I hope it can be implimented asap.
    Thanks again, great post.

  3. Thank you Nin for pulling my head it. I too was angry and sad, but at the wrong people. Going and judging everyone in one large gambling abusive group. Thanks for righting that wrong.



  4. A great eye opening post Nin. Growing up we didn't have a lot of money, but there was always enough for what we needed, and enough spare for unexpected expenses. At various stages in my adult life I've had to budget carefully, only buying things I need and paying my bills. So I can appreciate the value of money, but I can't imagine what it must be like to have to choose between which necessities to pay for.

    It does seem like a negligible amount of money to spend to implement this program and help out these kids, I hope something can be done.

  5. I totally understand. Growing up in South Auckland that was the normal and for many of those families that's all they know, to say these people are wrong isn't right and for many families are doing their best with what they have. I am so thankful my family has broken the cycle can provide for our children.

  6. Beautifully written post Nin.

  7. I love this post Nin - it's one that NEEDS to be read by lots of people. Because people who have never been on the other side of the poverty line need to hear about it from a person who has really lived on both sides of the fence - also the kind of person (sadly on their behalf) they can relate to and respect. This article deserves wider readership I'd encourage you to post a link on the debate if you can. I haven't read it - I don't need to it breaks my heart and makes me angry this is happening on our turf - it's.not.ok
    love you, thanks for your honesty xxxx

  8. I too burst out crying, it makes me feel so sad. I have been paying for a girl in my daughter's class to have a sausage on sausage sizzle day at school so she doesn't miss out. It's not much, but if everyone helps out a little, imagine what a difference it could make! We need to look after our nation's children, they are our future after all!

  9. This is such an powerful and important post. Thank you so much for writing it.

  10. AWESOME piece of writing. I worked for years in low decile schools - in New Zealand and London. The majority of children within these schools were from loving, warm, hardworking families who were just trying to make ends meet. They were proud, courageous people who cared deeply about doing right by their children. There were days and weeks where their children didn't always have what was considered the healthiest option for lunch - or even an option at all. But faulting the love and committment to their children was neither an option. Teachers all across NZ and overseas work bloody hard to create warm, safe environments for the children in their care. This includes thousands of teachers arriving early at their work to help feed and create warm starts to the day for many children. These same teachers have been quietly chugging away for years to get the government to recognise this issue. And organisations like Kids Can have also been around for years. I truly hope that there is less judgement that happens over the next few days, weeks, months and years and that this issue does not become just another fly by night example of Campbell Live.

  11. This made me cry - so very very well written Nin, thank you x

  12. THANK YOU for speaking out. This is a topic of GREAT concern within our beautiful country and to be honest we can sit on our butts all day making generalized comments about families using it for addiction wether it be gambling or drinking... Yes there are some families dealing with addictions and deeper problems however my heart keeps going back to an old saying that ' it takes a village to raise a child '. If we as middle class New Zealanders can help a family/child missing out, we can nurture that child and hopefully break a cycle that repeats itself over and over again. Lets stop being so judgmental and lets get off our asses and DO SOMETHING that makes a difference in someone else's life.


  13. Nin this is so true!
    and though I didn't quite have it as tough as others... I understand aspects of this... growing up in a family with a single mum living of the welfare....however she was a fighter, and she eventually got free from it, but not without a lot of hard work and determination... but saying that, we were fortunate to have a lot of emotional support.

  14. Very well written, thank you! I was very saddened to see that story on Campbell Live and admittedly I did blame some of it on the wrong people but I also knew that most of it was a poverty issue and a lot of families are really struggling to make ends meet. It's tough and so sad to know it's happening around us.

  15. Thank you that was very well written!! I was very saddened by the story of Campbell Live and admittedly did blame some of it on the wrong people but also knew that the majority of it was due to poverty. It's tough out there and sad it's happening around us so much.

  16. Brilliant. Just brilliant. Thank you.

  17. I love what you wrote and I completely hear you on it, growing up in the coromandel I saw extreme poverty but was lucky enough to not experience it myself. What I do want to add though is that its not just that so many of those desks were empty of food its also that the ones that did have food were appalling choices and in fact for the price of the sports drink packs of chips and cookie time cookies you could buy a loaf of cheap wholegrain bread and peanut butter and feed that child protein and wholegrains for a week. Its not just about supporting those on minimum wage with money but also educating them in what constitutes healthy food and how to budget.
    My primary school principal in Coromandel set up a program in our wee school that every parent contributed at the end of term something towards the soup program, even if it was just some kumara or watercress from the garden and a couple of the parents would spend a day making and freezing soup which was heated up each morning with each child given a full cup and MADE to drink it. It was fantastic. Most of the community grew something or could get a sack of potatoes or carrots. It was getting the parents involved and contributing which built their self esteem and the kids got nutricious lunch. It all comes down to education really and a helping hand from those more fortunate.

    1. I understand you're trying to be helpful. I do, but you are totally missing my point. It was my purpose in this post to get across to you the sheer effort many poor families expend on holding down a job and keeping a roof over their heads (I'm not talking about beneficiaries - rather families where each parent works 1-2 jobs). The situation they find themselves in causes them the deepest shame and embarrassment. Condemning the few who provided something instead of nothing isn't helpful.

      BUT, If you want to spend the time and get into the community and implement some of the great ideas you mentioned I warmly encourage you to do that - in fact, get over to the KidsCan website and register, then let me know - I'll come take pictures and write as blog post about it! Good luck x

  18. I love this post. It brings up many memories for me. Somehow we always had breakfast and lunch, but I remember many a time biking home in the cold after a hard day at work and having pudding for tea. It was cheap apparently but it was terrible. It was bottled apricots (we had a tree) and a sponge on top. Not good food after a long day for the six of us.

    Also having been a business owner for all of our married life, we have had many many difficult days. I remember feeding the children plain rice with baked beans mixed in. Nothing else. I remember going to the dairy many times and having the eftpos card declined when buying milk. I remember the juggling act with paying bills and buying food. I prayed for money for wages for our staff every week for over two years. I pray we never have to go through those days again.

    But the lessons I learned mean that I saw that program on tv I felt no judgement for those mothers and fathers, but sorry and grief for their pain and exhaustion and can only imagine the difficult decisions they are making.

    Thanks for writing about this in such an articulate way.

    Love and hugs deb xxxxx

  19. Thank you for this post :)

  20. So well written and I whole heartedly agree with you Nin!


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