Fuelled by the highest rate of unemployment in 13 years, the
queues snaking along the pavements outside the Auckland City
Mission have nothing festive about them.
"I keep saying every year it's unprecedented ... but I'm
almost beyond words when I look out there," said missioner
"This is nothing to celebrate."
More than 100 people were lined up on Hobson St and round a
corner into a neighbouring lot yesterday, some since 5am, to
receive charity - Christmas food parcels and donated gifts
The majority did not want to appear in the newspaper. "Maybe
if I had won something or it was something lucky," a woman
Ms Robertson said the mission's clients were struggling with
unemployment and entitlement cuts. "They're losing options."
And the continuing recession was adding people to the queue
as those on low incomes fell into the same poverty cycle as
"As an agency we really try to get people off benefits and
employed - make life better than it's been," Ms Robertson
said. "But right now we're just alleviating poverty, because
there's no place to go."
Ms Robertson said the mission expected to help about 2000
people this Christmas with food parcels, a new record.
The Quarterly Labour Force Survey in September found 175,000
unemployed people in New Zealand, up 13,000 in three months -
and 12.4 per cent higher than last year. At 7.3 per cent, the
unemployment rate was at a 13-year high. And the number of
people employed dropped by 8000 for the quarter.
Meanwhile, welfare reforms have seen the introduction of
penalties for failing to accept work. Work and Income
officers were at the mission to identify those who needed
help. Benefits could be paid on the spot to be available
A woman in the queue, who did not want to be named or
photographed, said she had left her Papakura home at 4.30am
to get some gifts for her children. Her sister had driven her
into the city. She said this year had been particularly
"It's been hard. Really hard."
She was thankful for a bit of help to put on some kind of
Christmas for her family, she said.
Another woman said it was her first time at the mission after
hearing about it through a friend. Rising prices at the
supermarket had been crushing, she said.
But others were at least able to talk now of Christmas plans
with family, gathering siblings together and hopefully
heading to the beach if the sun turned out.
The growing deprivation is part of a longer-term trend as
well. Nationally, Work and Income gave out 144,000 food
grants in the first full year they were recorded, 1992-93,
but last year this had increased to 554,000, including
150,000 in Auckland.
- Michael Dickison of New Zealand Herald