Tuesday 29 May 2012

Cutbacks and Poverty in New Zealand

NZ: Poverty-stricken kids resort to scavenging

29 May, 2012

Children living in poverty are taking desperate measures to feed and clothe themselves at Waikato schools as families struggle to provide for their most basic needs.

In one case, a young boy without a winter jersey was told to steal one from the lost property by his mum because she couldn't afford to buy one, and another principal caught a child scavenging through rubbish bins for food.

Experts warn that, with winter approaching, the problem will only get worse.

Rhode Street School principal Shane Ngatai said he was disturbed to hear a boy at his school had been told to steal a winter jersey, or go without.

"We're seeing a number of them getting pinched," he said.

Kids are also coming to school wearing worn out shoes or barefoot, and hungry.

Rhode Street is one of 15 Waikato schools, and 200 nationwide, supported by KidsCan, a charity for underprivileged school children, which provides food, shoes and raincoats for decile one schools.

Ngatai said his school received about 60 pairs of shoes and 50 jackets this year.

KidsCan founder Julie Helson said the need was growing with about 270,000 kids living in poverty, and 109 schools, including some in the Waikato, on the waiting list for assistance.

"We're providing food for 4500 a day and we know from our figures that the real estimate of the number of children going hungry is about 15,000 a day," she said.

She received an email from a Waikato principal who said a child had been caught rummaging through rubbish bins for food.

There have also been cases of siblings taking turns to attend school as they have to share one pair of shoes, and kids having their lunch stolen by others who haven't eaten for over 24 hours.

Paeroa Central School KidsCan co-ordinator Karen Short said some kids were also skipping school because they had no food. However, she said KidsCan providing bread, muesli bars and fruit pottles had made a positive difference.

"It's allowing the parents to send their kids to school knowing that we weren't going to leave them hungry," she said.

"If they're fed then they're going to be thinking and they can learn."

Poverty Action Waikato researcher Anna Cox said the region has seen a "surge in need" over the past year, and it would become more severe over winter months.

She recently started researching poverty in Waikato schools and some principals have reported a "noticeable" increase in poverty-related issues during the first few months of this year.

However, she said there was a growing number of initiatives in schools to combat poverty that were yielding positive results, including free breakfasts and school gardens.

Allowance cut adds thousands to loan
Caitlin Davies has been forced to add thousands of dollars in student loan debt and take on extra hours of part-time work so that she can finish her masters degree

29 May, 2012

Ms Davies, 21, is among thousands of students part way through post-graduate study who will have their student allowance cut off when changes announced in last week's Budget take effect next year.

"They just changed it without telling us and we can't really do anything about it now because we've already started," Ms Davies said.

"If we'd had warning, our decision-making would have been different."

As well as freezing the parental income threshold at which students can claim a student allowance, the Government has also decided allowances will not be available to people in masters or PhD programmes – a move that will cut up to 5000 students from the scheme.

Ms Davies was eligible for the allowance in the first four years of her psychology studies because the income from her mother did not cross the threshold.

She gets about $210 a week, which covers her rent and power bills. She works 10 hours a week as a swimming pool lifeguard to cover other bills, rather than borrow from the student loan scheme for any more than to cover her fees.

Next year, when she writes her thesis, Ms Davies will be cut from the allowance and have to draw further on her student loan for living costs. But living cost loans are currently capped at $172.51 a week so she will have to increase her work hours in order to pay the bills.

Ms Davies said if she had known the Government was going to cut off her allowance, she would have made different plans.

She may have taken a year out just to work or have gone to the United States for her post-graduate study, where she did an exchange earlier.

"If you can apply for a PhD programme in the United States that pays everything for you, why stay here?" Ms Davies said.

Another affected student, Sarah Jane Parton, had planned to continue up-skilling with postgraduate study next year but will now not carry on.

Ms Parton, 32, with two children aged 6 and 3, used the student allowance to go back to university this year for a masters degree.

"To me, it seems like they're relegating higher education to the people who are either independently wealthy or are so bright they can get a scholarship," Ms Parton said.

Labour's tertiary education spokesman, Grant Robertson, said New Zealand "desperately" needed more people to take advanced qualifications to help drive sustainable economic growth.

"Cutting allowances will only jeopardise that," he said.

"This Government needs to get its priorities right, and invest in our future by encouraging students to complete postgraduate study."

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said post-graduate students affected could borrow from the student loan scheme.

"It's interest-free ... somebody who is going to get a masters or a PhD, the average income premium for them once they graduate from that second degree is between 60 and 70 per cent over somebody who doesn't go to university."

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