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‘You can’t budget your way out of poverty’ – Call for no more ‘token gestures’

Wednesday 18 May 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in New Zealand, Regional

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‘You can’t budget your way out of poverty’ – Call for no more ‘token gestures’
Covering the basics is a struggle for many in the Pacific community, experts say. Photo: 123RF/Rafael Ben-Ari

The New Zealand government is being urged to implement long-term solutions to tackle poverty in Pacific communities.

There are calls to deal with the rising cost of living ahead of tomorrow's Budget announcement, and to address health issues for Pasifika which have been exacerbated during the pandemic.

Many Pacific high school students have not been back to school since the pandemic because they have had to work to help their family pay the bills.

El-Shadan Tautolo is an associate professor at the centre for Pacific Health & Development Research at AUT, and said covering the basics is a struggle for many.

"We all know in our daily lives the rising costs of things, supermarket and petrol prices. In Auckland is over $3, it is ridiculous. That is having a huge impact on our communities."

More than 25 percent of Pacific children in New Zealand live in poverty, according to research released last year from The Child Poverty Monitor.

Auckland University sociologist Dr Sereana Naepi said the government must move past band-aid solutions.

"You can't budget your way out of poverty. We need an increase in wages, we need to do something about inflation, we need to close the pay gap."

In 2020 if you are a Pakeha with a bachelor's degree or higher you earned $36.29 an hour and if you are Pacific it was $31.24 an hour, she said.

"That means Pacific students with bachelors are earning $10,500 less every year even with the same qualifications.

"But we can legislate in ways that enable us to address racism we experience in our pay."

She said it was also about improving the lives of future generations.

"A quarter of our babies grow up in poverty. They have just as much of a right as everyone else to enjoy the economic realities in Aotearoa."

South Auckland consultant paediatrician Dr Teuila Percival said the disparity in Pacific health outcomes needed to be addressed.

"Long-term conditions like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and children's health with infectious diseases still, lots of respiratory disease. Mental health has also become a big issue since the pandemic as well."

She would also like better pathways to encourage more Pasifika to become doctors, health administrators and pharmacists.

Waikato Pasifika Business Network spokesperson Rachel Afeaki said housing was a big need and hoped this year's Budget would look into funding Pacific businesses in the construction sector.

"Why can't our Pasifika-owned businesses be part of that solution? It would be really great to see a budget where Pasifika can leverage and build and participate in these much-needed sectors that will also accommodate the needs of our Pasifika people," she said.

A Pasifika entrepreneur wanted more funding for service providers to help small Pacific businesses turn digital.

Julius Mataupu said the Covid-19 pandemic had demonstrated how businesses had used digital platforms to stay operational.

"It'll be good to see some of that budget going to service providers who are willing to articulate to small Pacific businesses how to do that."

Christchurch social worker To'alepai Louella Thomsen-Inder has witnessed a lot on the front lines, and this was her message for the New Zealand government:

"It is not enough that you do a topping off and think that's enough... it's a token gesture. Look at us as quite diverse. You can't put us all in the same basket. We need to have more Pacific providers in health and education."

She joined the chorus of Pacific leaders asking for lasting solutions to address poverty, health and education to give Pasifika communities the tools to thrive.