Cold, hungry and with no savings, mothers on the breadline hold hopes for Wellbeing Budget

2:09 pm on 27 May 2019

A single mother who works full time yet struggles to provide the basics for her children says she'd like to see more funding in this week's Budget go towards helping parents obtain better qualifications.

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Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Flaxmere resident Benny Hone works nights driving a forklift for minimum wage and her days looking after six of her 10 children still at home.

"We work hard ... but it's not easy. Most of our income goes on bills, food and we are left with very little."

Sometimes there's no money for school lunches or for heating her cold, damp state home. Her children are often sick, and one son has a chronic skin condition.

A dream to become a truck driver so she can get a well paying job and provide a better life for her family feels unobtainable, however.

"I'd jump at the chance to do it ... but I don't have the money to do all those courses," she says.

Funding to tackle child poverty is expected to be a big focus in this week's Budget as the government unveiled its target of halving the number of children in poverty within 10 years.

More than 250,000 children are living in poverty, once housing costs are taken into account, official figures show.

Ms Hone would like to see funding to help struggling parents into better paid jobs.

"I know there's a lot of mums out there, like me, that would jump at those opportunities because I sure as hell don't want to sit around on a benefit and survive off very little, she said.

Ms Hone knows getting practical help with what may appear to be a small thing, can make a huge difference to families like hers.

In 2017, she'd racked up huge traffic and court fines from driving on her learners licence, because she couldn't afford, and was too scared, to sit her restricted.

The Wharariki Trust in Flaxmere paid and helped her study for her licence. And when she got it, the court wiped all her fines.

Empowering parents like Ms Hone to help themselves was crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty, Wharariki Trust chief executive Ana Apatu said.

But institutional barriers that prevented families improving their situations also needed to be broken.

"I'd like to see things tipped around to it actually enables our families to make the choices that they really know what's best for them, instead of our structural barriers being in place that makes it difficult, or makes them feel bad."

Sarah's story

In Whangarei, Sarah holds her young baby as she explains how she can't afford to heat their uninsulated rental.

Despite her partner working full time, they can't make ends meet on his minimum wage.

The mother-of-five would like to see the government extend the winter energy payment to the working poor, instead of just beneficiaries.

Then they could afford to run a heater at night, for the kids, she said.

An increase in the minimum wage would also really help.

"I feel the government could put up the minimum wage to a living wage ... people can only just pay the rent, pay the gas and just get by for the week. We'd love to be able to save money but we haven't been able to save anything so far," she said.

Cold, damp homes continued to fill hospital wards with sick children every winter, with the youngest and poorest most at risk, Hawke's Bay paediatrician and former Children's Commissioner, Russell Wills said.

The plight of the poorest Māori and Pasifika children had worsened particularly over the last 10 years, and while he applauded the government's new target, it would only be possible if there is more social housing, more income for the poorest families, and changes to the benefit system, he said.

"We need parents to be getting into work when their youngest is at school. And that means it needs to be worth their while.

"Currently abatements mean that some parents coming off a benefit to start work end up no better off," he said.

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