A nationwide parenting survey has revealed confronting statistics about Pasifika parents struggling under cost of living stress, but community leaders on the ground say, ‘no shit, Sherlock’.
“A shopping list for a family per week used to be between $100 to $300. Now it’s between $300 to $500,” says Jackie Clark from The Aunties.
The annual nib State of the Nation Parenting Survey recently released confronting statistics about the rising cost of living and how it’s impacting ethnic minorities. Over 1200 Kiwi parents participated and it revealed that Pasifika, Māori and Asian parents are feeling the burden of financial, societal and household pressures more than their Pākehā counterparts.
Clark is frustrated because the situation is not new — it’s just worse than before.
“We have one lady who lives in a large house that is a shit hole, paying $850 of rent per week, living with six children, running a business, but always chasing the money,” Clark says. “There are women who will go without food for weeks.”
She says, “this is the reality.”
The Aunties is a registered charitable trust that facilitates donations of goods and money to women healing from abusive relationships (who call themselves the Aunties whānau).
They also provide intensive pastoral care for those women, while providing guidance to around 950 people a year experiencing domestic violence and other complex situations where getting personalised advice is often difficult.
What that looks like is Clark having lunch dates via Zoom with each of the wāhine, empowering them to realise their own strength.
The survey found that 62% of New Zealand parents say the rising cost of living affects their ability to raise children, but this was significantly more true for Asian (73%), Māori (72%) and Pasifika parents (72%).
Also, 10% of Pākehā parents say they go without essentials, like petrol and skipping meals, but this was more for Māori (13%), Pacific Islanders (21%) and Asians (22%).
Clark says that in the past six months she has seen an increase in people seeking help because food prices have gone up horrendously, and rent and petrol are also expensive.
“But it’s more complex than just saying prices are going up and people aren’t eating,” Clark says. “There’s the trauma from the intergenerational physical and sexual violence these families are dealing with that gets in the way of them progressing.”
The Aunties is a safe space for women to have a long-term relationship with healing from their compound trauma. The women run the gamut from full time workers to one studying towards her Masters; two of the women own homes – they’re not all people who have fallen into hopelessness and helplessness. “Struggling with the cost of living is not necessarily people with low incomes now. Even the educated are struggling,” Clark says.
Kiri Jones is one of the women in the Aunties whānau and lives in social housing with $224 a week. She was ecstatic to receive an extra $20 to her benefit last year, but was quickly disheartened when her rent went up $15.
“So, I’m left with an extra $5 to live off, which is ridiculous,” Jones says. “The system doesn’t favour Māori and Pasifika people, who live holistic-type cultures and so we’re always going to be behind.
“Getting an education will help, but then we have to deal with institutional racism, so there’s always a barrier in our way,” she says. “But unfortunately, what we’re seeing come through is a lot of women without an education.”
Clark adds that, for these women, an added drawback is a lack of confidence due to the physical and psychological harm that they’ve experienced. “What I’ve learned from these indigenous women in Aotearoa is they don’t believe you can advocate for yourself, and it’s heartbreaking.”
“I’ve had a Pasifika woman tell me they don’t get paid enough and I say why aren’t you getting paid enough? Why don’t you ask? I then realise she’s never had the luxury of dreaming anything bigger than what she has always seen around her, and she thought all she was good for was working in a factory for $23 [an hour],” Clark explains.
“There’s a Sāmoan mum who is 45 years old and tells me she is tired these days and I ask her when she was growing up in the islands, what did she want to be? She said a doctor and when I put the idea in her head to study, she said she’ll try healthcare assistant and I had to stop her and say, why not medicine? She’s never had the luxury to think beyond the skies, she’s always just had to survive.”
Another statistic that is unfortunate but not surprising is that 34% of Pākehā parents said they are reducing unnecessary spending (eg toys, games, gifts) compared to 47% of Māori, 55% of Pacific Island and 42% of Asian parents.
Clark says the answer to fixing the problem is simple, but the government won’t do it.
“It’s really expensive being poor. The people without money are getting punished for not having money with late penalties to bills,” she says.
“The community I’m working with are heavy WINZ users, so all the government needs to do is raise the benefit and it’ll be instant financial relief for many,” Clark says. “They also need to temporarily freeze rent costs because it makes no sense why a house in Manurewa East, where all the crack houses are located, costs $700 [a week].
“If the government addresses poverty, they’ll be addressing the crime in our neighbourhood because that’s where it comes from,” Clark says.
Rose Solia is a qualified financial mentor who can confirm that many of the Pasifika and Māori she sees are feeling the cost-of-living increases.
If you’re struggling to pay your debts or bills on time, Solia suggests letting your lenders and utility providers know. “Don’t be shy, the sooner you reach out the better, as you may be able to get your interest reduced, repayment holidays or a payment arrangement in place,” she says. “If you apply for financial hardship, you will have a hardship flag on your credit file, which tells other lenders that you’re in hardship, but it will not negatively impact your credit like a default would.”
Being of Sāmoan descent, Solia understands that it’s in the Pacific culture to give. Unfortunately, what she’s seeing is that sometimes people’s bank accounts cannot afford to be generous, and she urges the community to try not to overextend themselves. “Be honest with your family and friends if you’re short on money. Your family loves you and would not want you to struggle.”
Solia also encourages people to stay away from payday lenders and other high interest lenders when money is tight. “If you’re finding it tough to get by, taking on more debt, especially high interest debt, will make things harder.” This is where creating a budget is crucial – a piece of advice that’s shared constantly because it works. “There are free tools out there to help such as Money Talks,” says Solia. “Having a plan sets you up for success.”
This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.