MPs hear of concerns for the poor

Listening to church leaders' concerns at a meeting yesterday are (from left) North Dunedin MP Dr David Clark, university chaplain the Rev Greg Hughson and National MP Michael Woodhouse.  Photo by Craig Baxter.
Listening to church leaders' concerns at a meeting yesterday are (from left) North Dunedin MP Dr David Clark, university chaplain the Rev Greg Hughson and National MP Michael Woodhouse. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Two Dunedin politicians heard news from the coal face of social services yesterday, as they took in the views of the city's churches.

Experiences of teenage mothers, hungry children in poverty and a small pool of funding for those helping out took the reality of some residents' lives to National list MP Michael Woodhouse and Labour's North Dunedin MP Dr David Clark.

The event at Burns Hall yesterday was an interdenominational breakfast meeting of about 25 church leaders connected through the Dunedin Inner City Ministers Association and the Dunedin Pastors Network.

The organiser, university chaplain the Rev Greg Hughson, said the idea was to develop ''a greater sense of understanding'' in the politicians of issues faced by churches working in the community.

Those included the increasing gap between rich and poor, poor quality housing, unemployment and the cost of food.

Those issues meant the need for ''comprehensive support'' for those struggling, work done by agencies including the Salvation Army, Presbyterian Support, the Methodist Mission, Catholic Social Services and others.

Presbyterian Coastal Unity Parish child and family co-ordinator Mary Somerville told the meeting she ran a holiday programme for children.

She said more and more children she saw had just one meal a day because their families could not afford three.

Children at the programme were supposed to bring lunch, but some came without it.

''That's a concern.''

Salvation Army Gardens centre leader Nolan Hill said his organisation had run a programme for teenage mothers, helping them continue education or train for the work force.

That programme had to close, because of the small pot of funding available.

Funding was a continual challenge, Mr Hill said.

While the meeting was intended to be ''dialogue'', both politicians used to opportunity to push their parties' policies.

Dr Clark spoke about Labour's plan to increase the minimum wage to $16.25, and criticised Government tax cuts that had benefited the rich rather than the poor.

Mr Woodhouse countered a minimum wage increase could not be done ''without impact''.

He said the Government wanted children to grow up in ''loving, well insulated homes, with food in their tummies''.

''For far too many, this isn't the case.''

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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