From the outside looking in, New Zealand is a stunning, peaceful country that offers a lifestyle that many people wish was their own. However, the picture is very different to the residents of New Zealand who are still having to deal with the fact they are no longer entitled to universal benefits.
The conservative government introduced the change back in 1990, leading to the immediate cut off benefits and means tests for health care. The aim was to simply reduce the need for government dependency.
Following the welfare reforms, it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary to find a Wellington family scavenging for food in supermarket rubbish bags, or to learn that a health care patient stuck in hospital had been provided with next to no food during her stay. It was also common to see armed police roam the streets of Rotorua to prevent violent robberies, especially during Christmas.
Not much has changed from the early 90s, either, as New Zealand food banks are continually struggling to provide enough food parcels, as demand is far greater than the supplies available. What’s even more shocking is that the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) stated that more fruit and vegetables in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (52% combined) are sent to landfill sites over consumption. So, why are so many people ditching fresh food when people are struggling to feed their families? Why are food banks growing in size, the same way landfill sites are?
The UK is suffering from a similar poverty problem, as many of its residents are becoming increasingly dependent on food banks. Liverpool, the home of The Beatles, iconic Titanic hotel and a rich maritime history, claims that the city’s food banks are becoming more of a business than a charitable aid – and New Zealand are suffering the same problem. Food banks are, and have been since their establishment, as a way of keeping the poor poor and the rich rich.
It is hard to believe we live a country that is suffering from significant food poverty levels, as we are a leading exporter or butter, cheese, wine, apples and lamb. It is fair to say that New Zealand is far from the idyllic country that the media like to convey, as child poverty and abuse have increased by 68% in the last five years.
Metiria Turei, a co-leader of The Green Party, recently said, “How many more reports cataloguing its failure to address child poverty does the National Government need before it will step outside of its denial politics and do something about it? This must be the alarm bell that gets the government moving on child poverty.”
New Zealand has one charity for every 172 kiwis, and food banks are now part of the country’s social landscape. Food banks were created due to food poverty and, as a result, they are creating further poverty, as they are a temporary solution for a very permanent problem, and therefore deter the government from living up to their responsibilities. It is therefore up to the New Zealand to the public to stand up and say to the government that more needs be done, and poverty needs to become a top priority.