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The impact of income inequality was the focus of two New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services events in Dunedin this week.
Policy adviser Paul Barber, of Wellington, was in town to take part in a public discussion with about 100 people, and a workshop with eight people, to discuss how "inequalities hold back Dunedin's potential".
The council launched a national initiative in June this year, Closer Together Whakatata Mai, to highlight the growing gap between rich and poor; inspire groups and lobby politicians to take action; and change public perception of the issue.
"The message is around the fact that inequalities are real problems. It's not just something someone has dreamed up. Many problems come back to the fact that it's not about life choices; it's about not having enough money to live with dignity," he said.
Ways to lift people out of poverty included improving access to good, affordable housing, food and well-paying, secure jobs.
"People face high rents and poor-quality housing. It's really hard around here."
Mr Barber queried what the Dunedin City Council could do about improving social housing, and what could be done at a national level to ensure enough housing was affordable.
Meanwhile, healthy food had become an "optional extra" for many people and getting it on the table was a "real challenge".
Breakfasts in schools, foodbanks and community gardens were "practical things" groups and organisations were doing to tackle the issue, but he believed more could be done.
"Why do we allow people to be in this situation that they have to go to the foodbank or go without?"
He was impressed by the "ideas and energy" he had seen from those working in Dunedin to reduce income inequality.
With the election looming, the social services council had contacted politicians asking them to pledge their support to reducing inequality in New Zealand.
So far, four party leaders and 55 candidates had signed up and Mr Barber hoped a "solid majority" of MPs would work towards "helping people live with dignity".
"We can afford to be generous - we are not a poor country."