20 May 2013

Pacific people in NZ 'hardest hit' by recession

10:14 pm on 20 May 2013

Pacific community leaders are supporting a call for the Government to address high Pacific unemployment and low incomes.

The Salvation Army says rocketing demand for food parcels and debt to loan sharks will only get worse unless action is taken.

In a report released on Monday titled More Than Churches, Rugby and Festivals, the Salvation Army says Pacific people in New Zealand have been more severely hit than anyone else by the global recession.

It says Pacific people now have the highest unemployment, the lowest incomes and a widening income gap that could mean they're left behind when the economy recovers.

The average income is $479 a week compared with $721 for non-Pacific adults, the report says. This is an increase of just $2 in five years for Pacific adults, compared with $54 for everyone else.

One of the report's authors, Ronji Tanielu, says the huge income gap and painfully slow growth in pay affects everything from housing, to problem debt and putting food on the table.

Mr Tanielu says there's been a big spike in demand from Pacific families for Salvation Army food parcels, budgeting advice and drug and alcohol addiction services.

At the report's launch in Auckland on Monday, the Salvation Army urged the Government to revive its Pacific Wave unit of work brokers and extend Pacific youth training schemes.

The report's authors say demand for food parcels and debt to loan sharks will only get worse if nothing is done to reduce unemployment and lift Pacific income. It says government funding for breakfasts and lunches at school would help eradicate poverty for Pacific children and their families.

Pacifica Women national president Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop says the report makes it clear that Pacific people are at the bottom of the economic heap.

Auckland councillor Alf Filipaina says low incomes and unemployment are forcing many Pacific families in his ward into debt.

Both want the Government to work with Pacific communities to create jobs and help them gain qualifications for higher paying jobs.

A Salvation Army youth adviser in West Auckland, Christina Fa'avae, says she sees the effects of financial problems every day. "We're seeing a lot of young mums having to move into family garages, and homes where there's already overcrowding."

Ms Fa'avae says there is more demand at its food bank and for grants such as for school uniforms.

Government doing what it can - PM

Prime Minister John Key says there is no question the last four or five years have been tough for lower income New Zealanders, but the Government has been doing everything it can to support them through programmes, including Working for Families.

"The Government is working hard to basically make sure that the economy delivers jobs and opportunities and that we are doing everything we can to make sure that young Pacific people are getting opportunities and access to education that can advance their careers.

"We're working on a number of initiatives on that front."

The Government says this includes apprenticeships for Pacific youth and funding for technology training in schools with high Pacific rolls.

However, Opposition parties say Pacific people are being let down by a lack of action from the Government.

Labour's Pacific Island Affairs spokesperson Su'a William Sio says the Government has failed to stem growing inequity and Pacific people are losing out as a result.

Mr Sio says funding for the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs has been slashed by $861,000 in this year's Budget and less funding for Pacific employment services, which won't help the situation.

Pacific Island Affairs Minister Hekia Parata says Mr Sio's claim is incorrect. Ms Parata says the 2012 Budget included $653,000 worth of underspends from the previous two years' Budgets, as well as $208,000 for special one-off projects funded by other agencies.

The Green Party says Pacific children are being let down by a Government that chooses to look the other way when it comes to their welfare.