5 Dec 2017

Unemployed in Northland: 'I was doing everything I could'

7:52 am on 5 December 2017

MP Shane Jones mentioned his 'ne'er-do well nephews' in Kaikohe when discussing his proposed 'work for the dole' scheme, but some locals say there just aren't enough jobs in the small town for those on the benefit.


The jobs situation in Kaikohe is more complicated than it looks, say locals. Photo: RNZ/Lois Williams

The Northland community was singled out by the Regional Economic Development Minister on the weekend when talking about plans to make people work for the benefit.

Mr Jones said he wanted people off the unemployment benefit and earning a wage.

John Smith, 17, has been working as a painter for the past two months and said his friends had all found work or moved away, but people who go on the benefit tended to stay there.

"Most young people are out of employment and so they find their time doing things that they shouldn't do, like getting into drugs and breaking windows in shops and that. There are some other people who are lucky to find work through family connections and things like that.

"I reckon if they just be willing to get themselves out there, look everywhere, they'll find work, but some of them don't believe enough in themselves."

Another young local - who asked not to be named - said unemployed locals were still trying to find work.

"It's standard, as soon as you finish school, if you're not going to university or you haven't got a job lined up automatically, you need to be on the benefit to support yourself. You can't live without it."

He said lines formed every Tuesday and Thursday night at local ATMs, as beneficiaries waited for their payment to come in "just to buy some food for their kids".

"It's pretty sad to see.

"I was on the benefit for a while. It wasn't my own choice, I wanted to work, I was trying to get out there, and I was doing everything I could.

"I went to WINZ and asked them to help me but they never helped me. They just put me into a course and that's all they do for the young people around here. They promise jobs, but they never hold their part of the deal, so after that there's no motivation, so you just want to sit on the benefit."

Kaikohe sign

Photo: RNZ

Ruby Watson co-founded Akau - an architecture and design studio which worked with young people in the town.

"There isn't work here, so it creates this dependency on the benefit to start with and then it just manifests itself into being there long-term."

She said Mr Jones was not likely to get people to take to a different government scheme.

"People are going to take to something that's innovative, that's designed by them, for them. And they don't want to be told what to do by someone who has seemingly become ungrounded in where they're from and dismissed his nephews as being layabouts. Why would you listen to a scheme curated by someone who says something like that about you?

"We have these young guys here doing really cool mahi and changing the face of what Kaikohe is and there are lots of initiatives around the place that are doing that. So he can single [Kaikohe] out in a negative way, but actually there are some really cool things going on here so if he came here and sussed it he might figure that out."

Kaikohe Business Association head Mark Anderson

Kaikohe Business Association head Mark Anderson Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

However, Kaikohe Business Association head Mark Anderson said the idea of getting people off the couch and into work was just common sense.

"There has to be an element of compulsion for a number of people, because otherwise do as you've always done, get what you've always got. We have to do what we can to get these people into meaningful employment because you and I both know there's not only pay in your pocket but all those intangible benefits that come from working versus not."

He said new businesses were looking for staff and the employment situation in the town was the best it had been in some time.

"It's a small economy, but a good gauge is the number of empty shops and I think we're down to two or three empty shops in town. Whereas if you'd come into town five years ago there might have been 15, maybe more.

He said there was an infinite number of jobs for meaningful work, including weeding in national parks and getting rid of pests.

"I just think that we don't think hard enough or we're starting to get a bit picky about what might be appropriate for people to do in these work for dole schemes and to some degree I think that beggars can't be choosers."