Businesses and community organisations in South Auckland are already finding themselves stretched thin – and warn the worst is yet to come.
Māngere businesswoman Toni Helleur employs up to nine people providing corporate massage services across Auckland. But since April, she’s only had one month of income, and following this latest resurgence, the future isn’t looking bright.
“This second lockdown has been disastrous as there is obviously no way to do massages online. We are just barely keeping our heads above water,” she says.
“If the government does not step up to help small businesses who are unable to operate until level one, then I would have to face reality and call it quits. This will have life-changing consequences and be devastating news for my staff.”
Auckland Council’s Tania Pouwhare is predicting businesses like Helleur’s, which can only operate at level one or rely on international travellers, will find themselves part of a massive number of newly unemployed, equivalent to the population of Whanganui.
“South and West Auckland are steering down the barrel of 40,000 unemployed people over the next 24 months and most of those will be adults who have lost their jobs [as opposed to school leavers who can’t find work].”
Pouwhare works for the council’s Southern Initiative, a social innovation arm of the council primarily focused on generating socio-economic activity in South and West Auckland. She says the impact of Covid-19 on South Auckland’s economy will hit the region like a natural disaster.
“We haven’t even begun to feel the effects,” Pouwhare says.“The wage subsidy is still in place. Once that subsidy comes off, we will see a fairly steep incline in people becoming jobless.
“It’s like we’re on the shore staring at the tsunami, and it hasn’t hit us yet.”
Ngā Whare Waatea marae essential services operations manager Puhihuia Wade has been running its Māngere-based foodbank during this lockdown. She says South Auckland families are already doing it tough and she expects that to remain so for the foreseeable future.
“What we know is that whānau were just getting back to some form of normality,” she says. “People have just gone back into fulltime work or are just catching up with their power bills and their rent and then, due to this lockdown, they’ve had to move back into part-time hours and their income reduces.”
The winding up of the council’s large food distribution service at Spark Arena has put extra pressure on the marae, according to Wade, but it has been able to rely on its own backup supplies so far.
“We’re currently running off our resources and donations from the community and a couple of government agencies. We are trying to spread that [out] as we know that’s probably all we’re getting.”
Wade says prior to the first lockdown, the foodbank averaged about 70 food parcels a week, but that number jumped to over 70 a day during level four. And even when things returned to level one, demand remained high at roughly 40 a day.
Currently, it is distributing around 70 food parcels a day and the marae is looking at ways to expand how it helps people.
“The foodbank is just one of our services,” says Wade. “Being a marae we offer support around every aspect of a person’s life. And here at Ngā Whare Waatea, we are always going to try and respond to the needs of our community, and if the need rises, we will build our capacity and capability to respond to that demand.”
ME Family Service Centre in Māngere East provides extensive support to families across Māngere and Ōtāhuhu, including childcare and social work services. Its chief executive, Reverend Peter Sykes, says organisations like his and Ngā Whare Waatea will continue to evolve as the impact of Covid-19 reverberates through the community.
“I think people have become more resilient as a result of the first lockdown and less dependent than they were the first time,” says Sykes. “There seems to be a recognition that everyone is just doing their own thing for their own neighbourhood and their own network.”
He points out that churches have been organising their own pop-up testing stations, while the local high school in his area is running a helpline connecting people to food, counselling and social services.
“In the last lockdown there was a total breakdown in getting food parcels through council’s service, and so this time people haven’t even wasted their time going to council for solutions. Auckland council … and central government is [are] basically irrelevant to us.
“The longer this global pandemic goes on, the less reliant we will be on external providers and the more resilient we will become.”
Pouwhare says there is some cause for optimism despite the looming challenges ahead. Part of her role is running He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN), a network for Māori and Pasifika businesses aiming to connect them to contracts within local and central government. She says the HWEN businesses are in a good position to provide employment for those who have recently lost jobs due to Covid-19
“We’ve got a brighter story in that we have been able to get $44 million worth of work into He Waka Eke Noa businesses in the last 10 months, and $20 million of that was during the last lockdown.
“We are cautiously optimistic. But the optimism relies on us continuing to grow that work for our Māori and Pasifika businesses.”
She says for South Auckland to get through the coming months, central government must make the region a priority.
“One of our key tasks is making the case for an economic restart package, an intentional, strategic investment into South Auckland, not dissimilar to what the regions have had through the Provincial Growth Fund.
“We want South Auckland designated as a special economic zone. We need some attention for Auckland but we can’t have it all going to the CBD and hope that it trickles down to the proletariat of South Auckland.
“We want a new economy that is going to future proof South Auckland.“