NZ Local News

Northland schools act as cost of living and inflation increases child poverty

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Families are struggling so much with the cost of living that they can’t even afford socks, one principal has said. Photo / 123rf

A Northland principal has revealed some of their students are working as farm hands on the weekends to make ends meet as families are pushed further into poverty by inflation and the cost of living.

The high cost of living and higher levels of inflation are leading to more Kiwi children living in poverty and experiencing material hardship.

Data released by Statistics NZ for the year to June showed one in every six children lived in poverty when it came to measuring children in poverty after housing costs. There was also an increase in children living in households experiencing material hardship, meaning they went without basic needs such as fresh fruit and vegetables and doctor visits and had to put up with being sick.

To make matters worse, children’s charity KidsCan revealed donations have hit an all-time low. The charity, which supports kids in need through schools and preschools nationwide, is struggling, meaning six Northland schools are on the waitlist to receive help.

KidsCan chief executive officer Julie Chapman said the charity is facing a record demand of students waiting for help.

“Schools aren’t just asking us for food and clothing – some need shampoo, soap and toothpaste. The essentials are becoming luxuries.”

The Northland principal, who did not want to be identified, said provisions supplied by charities – such as warm clothing – and working outside her job description is what ensures students are not going without.

“Our kids can’t afford socks.”

She said KidsCan students were coming to school with no lunch or socks on their feet, and would often feel embarrassed at being offered a hot lunch by the school.

The principal regularly sends home unused food to help.

“I know that families are really struggling and they’re struggling with the basics, with the needs not the wants, especially when it comes to food and clothing.

“It’s about survival,” she said.

Without help from both the school and charities, the principal said families genuinely cannot survive.

The school’s location far off the beaten track means humble living is the name of the game, she said.

“We’ve got a couple of families here who don’t have power. They live off a generator. They don’t have internet.”

She said many families live off what nature provides, such as seafood from the nearby coastline, and she’s also had to pull food from her own freezer to ensure bellies are filled.

Most people who do work are in farming or forestry, she said, and it is simply not realistic for many to pay $600 for a rental.

According to the latest data from the Government’s Child Poverty Related Indicators Report for 2023, one in three children lived in households spending more than 30 per cent of their income on housing costs in 2021/22.

One in seven children lived in poor-quality housing. Rates remain significantly higher for Pacific children and tamariki Māori.

One in eight children experienced food insecurity, and tamariki Māori as well as Pasifika children continue to face substantially greater barriers to food security.

Brodie Stone is the education and general news reporter at the Advocate. Brodie has spent most of her life in Whangārei and is passionate about delving into issues that matter to Northlanders and beyond.

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