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Cost of living crisis hits Pasifika families hard as Tauranga trust sees more ‘working-hard poor’

Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai

12 people living in a four-bedroom home and a limited income, the rising cost of living is taking a very real toll

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

For the Pita family, with 12 people living in a four-bedroom home and a limited income, the rising cost of living is taking a very real toll.

Manamea Pita is a migrant from Tuvalu’s Vaitupu and Nukulaelae villages, and now she’s living in the Tauranga suburb of Parkvale with her husband and their six children.

She looks after four more children from her extended family, with the children aged from 2 years to 15.

“We are struggling … struggling with petrol and food on a weekly basis.

“We’re not financially stable ourselves, but we always tend to lend a hand.”

Food prices are rapidly rising in New Zealand, with Stats NZ data out yesterday showing an overall 12.5 per cent increase in the year ending June. Fruit and vegetables were 22 per cent more expensive than a year earlier, while grocery costs were up 12.5 per cent and meat 11 per cent.

Card spending data, also released yesterday, showed a rebound for retail in June but core spending remained flat. Westpac senior economist Darren Gibbs said this reflected ongoing pressure on household finances, the Herald reported.

A Government fuel subsidy – introduced in March 2022 after a global energy crisis spiked petrol prices – ended on July 1, adding around 29 cents to the price per litre of petrol.

Inflation is sitting at 6.7 per cent for the year to March.

As a stay-at-home mum, Pita does all the school runs, the cooking and cleaning, and makes sure her children and the nieces and nephews are well looked after and loved.

Doing it all on a very limited income had been stressful, and Pita said the stress also caused mental health issues and excruciating headaches. She had counselling but says it didn’t sit right with her culture and beliefs.

Pita then sought help from the Pacific Island Community Trust Tauranga.

The trust is a health and social service that aims to give primarily Pasifika families practical support in a way that does fit with their cultures and beliefs.

It has 18 staff, offering a mobile nursing service, outpatient advocacy, help with emergency housing and a range of other support, all using Pasifika models of care.

Since December, Pita’s been part of the Whānau Ora programme the trust offers, which means the income from her husband’s full-time job goes straight to the programme and a budget adviser uses it to pay costs such as rent and bills.

Pita receives $501 through Working for Families and uses that money for food and other everyday items.

Their limited income and rising costs mean the family have ended up in debt.

“We can’t afford the children’s clothes and emergency essential needs when they need it in an instant so I have to then turn to layby and Afterpay, adding more financial strain.”

But Pita says now she’s working with a budget adviser, and that situation is changing.

The Whānau Ora programme offers help and advice with things including budgeting, home ownership and money management.

The Pacific Island Community Trust says offering the programme has drawn more struggling families to their office.

Trust spokeswoman Beryl Razak uses the phrase “working-hard poor” to describe the families who put in a lot of effort but are still in need of help.

She says the trust team keep track of the issues people are facing.

“Five families will visit us [each day] for food, unpaid rent, car repairs, and power bills … all these are due to cost of living.”

Beryl Razak of Pacific Island Tauranga Trust attending to people from the community. Photo / Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai

Razak says they used to provide $200 food vouchers, but that’s just not enough anymore, so they now distribute $400 food vouchers.

She says there are not enough resources in Tauranga for Pasifika families.

“The funding is not really there to support the data we have, we can only do so much, and we are tired.”

For Pasifika families like that of Pita, the services the trust offers are making a difference.

And Pita says she’s optimistic about the future: “Everything I do, I have to remember my children, they are the reason for everything I do.”

Tauranga City Council figures show people from the Pacific make up 3 per cent of the city’s population.

Hero Image: Manamea Pita says trying to cope with rising living costs caused her stress and excruciating headaches. Photo / Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai

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