COVID-19: Salvation Army calls for rent freeze, government assistance as demand for food and housing support skyrocket

The briefing illustrates the plight of Kiwis struggling with the stress of foreclosure, including those living in overcrowded or substandard housing in the private rental market, casual entrepreneurs currently unable to work, and single-parent families. There is also a cohort with health or mobility issues who struggle to access the essentials they need, as well as those with limited access to the internet or digital devices that cannot buy online.

“You have this double combination of lack of income and lack of access to food,” Salvation Army senior social policy analyst Paul Barber told The AM Show Thursday morning.

“You have people in overcrowded and substandard housing who have widened their bubble and need more food. Incomes for casual contract workers have ceased and the wage subsidy processes might not be clear to people. [There are] single parents with young children who can’t get to the stores because they can’t take the kids… and those with limited internet access, we see the digital divide getting worse. People cannot access online shopping or other ways to get help online.

“People often operate on very tight budgets, they don’t have a lot of reserve. The lockdown came quickly, and you are quickly put in a position where you really need help.”

The Salvation Army says food parcel distribution is often a good indicator of hardship, with increased demand for support suggesting there are critical issues around food insecurity. Many families rely on the Department of Education’s Ka Ora, Ka Ako program, which provides healthy meals to schoolchildren. But with schools currently closed amid Alert Level 3 and Alert Level 4 restrictions, these families are now struggling to secure enough food for their tamariki, the military said. Before the added burden of the lockdown, around one in five children in New Zealand lived in households that struggle to get enough good-quality food on the table.

The military notes that while national and internal systems suggest there is no food crisis yet, as there is still enough to meet the demand for support, that could change quickly.

This marked increase in food insecurity is also illustrated by the number of requests made to the army’s 0800 hotline. A steady stream of people have asked for help for substance abuse treatment support, housing assistance and financial mentoring assistance during the lockdown.

In the COVID-19 Lockdown Briefing, the Salvation Army also calls on the government to:

  • Anticipate the implementation of the April 2022 benefit increases with immediate effect
  • Implement immediate assistance to help families pay rents, for example by increasing thresholds for housing subsidies for special needs
  • Put in place a freeze on rent increases, at least for Auckland for the duration of levels 3 and 4 and beyond.
  • Make sure the Department of Education is connected and supporting families who typically receive their healthy school meal program. The funding has already been allocated for food aid and should be used for these families
  • Ensure that migrant workers are fully entitled to emergency allowance with MSD, after the end of the Manaaki Manuhiri program.

Read the Salvation Army’s COVID-19 Lockdown briefing here.

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