© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

A growing list of school essentials leaves families struggling

Rachel Das
school stuff
The Child Poverty Action Group says not everyone is getting a fair start at life.   Rachel Das

The demands on families have long surpassed just getting food on the table.

The children's school uniforms don't fit.

Their shoes?

The same problem.

The milk is out.

There's little food, even less money.

There are nine people, just one adult.

She's working part time…

Her benefit is penalised for that privilege.

This isn't an unfamiliar story for many people in Christchurch.

In fact, not-for-profit workers say it's very common. 

Money is tight on the best of days, with feeding the family a challenge - let alone having extra cash for school essentials.

Jacqui Burrows from He Waka Tapu works with families who sometimes struggle to get by.

"We know that shoes and school lunches and low education are a problem, but it's even stuff like school uniforms."

Anne Addei from the Compassion Trust says when it comes to families getting their children to school, it's more than uniforms that are expected, but pressure for students to have their own laptops too.

"Parents can't afford uniforms, let alone laptops."

"Child poverty is a reality," Addei says. 

Information sourced from the Christchurch City Mission (costs are provided by schools in lower decile areas and are based on the retail price of clothing and stationery).

When the Kiwi Family Trust began 12 years ago, they weren't a social service charity.

Yet manager Bella Aitken says in the face of such increased need, now they're becoming one by default.

And it’s not straight forward.

"People are coming in with much more complex issues and combinations of needs, not just food."

They've created services for what they see is most essential and a lot of it is school related: shoes, food for school lunches, swimming lessons, school uniforms and sports activities.

When schools merged throughout Christchurch, parents had to come up with the money for new uniforms.

Haeata Community College had a creative response to the problem.

Knowing students couldn't afford a uniform, they gave every child a free top – and it's just one top that most students have stayed with.

The college's navigator and communicator staff member, Jeremy Faumuina, says the gap between rich and poor is right in your face.

"There are different worlds in Christchurch… New Zealand is one of richest countries on the planet, yet the basic necessities for families are pretty poor."

He believes if people don't actually see what’s happening, it's hard to make changes.

Children discuss what they think child poverty is and how we can eliminate it.

Sara Epperson from the Child Poverty Action Group believes policies are the bottom problem.

"Our policies deprive kids of the basics they need and a sense of belonging."

She's had people tell her that every week is more than they can afford.

Epperson says 63% of families below the poverty line rely on the benefit as their main source of income, and she believes families on benefits are discriminated against. 

"NZ culture prides itself giving everyone a fair go, but many families struggling to get by aren't getting a fair go."

Getting to know your neighbours and looking out for each other is a step in the right direction, social workers say. Pixabay.com, CCO licence