Our population is booming in two specific areas: Māori, and older people. It’s been called the ‘browning and greying’ of Hawke’s Bay by politicians and policy planners. Perhaps the single greatest influence on the social well-being and growth of our community. And both these groups put particular pressures on our region, because statistically they are the less well off in our community.
Looking at the stark numbers, our financial bottom-line suffers and the demands on our social services increase when our population gets browner and greyer. Our fastest growing population segments are also our neediest.
Increased pressures brought on by the many effects of poverty – family violence, poor health, lower educational achievement, mental health concerns – bring increased pulls on resources.
Project our population to 2031 and there’s no doubt it’s getting older – over-65s will increase from 14% to nearly 25%.
Currently 23.5% of people in Hawke’s Bay belong to the Māori ethnic group. That proportion is projected to grow to 30% by 2031.
What this adds up to for Hawke’s Bay’s councils is a call to closely examine the role of our leaders in ‘bettering our lot’, not just for those two groups most affected, but for the wellbeing of us all.
A strong future for Hawke’s Bay means improving the lives of older people and of Māori. How we do that is much debated, and specifically whose role it is: central or local government? Mayors and councillors, or MPs and government departments? Do we create local solutions for local problems, or do councils stick to ‘rates, roads and rubbish’ and let Wellington look after jobs, housing and education?
The Toki Family
Janet Toki has a greater understanding than most of the effects of poverty, unemployment and poor housing. As the mother of an 18 year old and a 17 year old, she can also see first-hand how challenging it is for young people to move from school into work or training. And with eight other children at home, every day is a series of decisions directly connected to the necessities of life.
She is an articulate and thoughtful matriarch of a large Māori family caught in the middle of a tangle of classic social challenges. All exacerbated by having 11 children and a husband recently let go from his job as a truck driver.
The story of the Tokis is perhaps an extreme case, but there, within one family, is a snapshot of many issues surrounding families all over Hawke’s Bay.
They’ve recently moved from two units owned by a private landlord in Hastings to a six bedroom home in Napier, owned by Housing New Zealand.
“One of the single biggest questions in Hawke’s Bay is housing,” explains Janet. “Among houses owned by HNZ many are empty, but those in private dwellings are really suffering. Rents have skyrocketed and conditions are pretty bad.”
After husband Conrad lost his job the family couldn’t keep up with rent payments and were evicted. They were homeless until a Hastings District councillor got involved, working closely with the family to get them a place to live.
“It was a fluke we found him because I don’t know who any of our councillors are or what they do.”
Education and employment
Education is another area where Janet believes Council could step in and help out. “There’s a lot of families out there struggling to get their kids to school. If there were minibuses or vans that could pick up children and take them to school that would really help.”
Janet puts her older children on a 7.30am bus to get them to school in Havelock North. They get home at 5.30pm. She drives her other children across to their school in Hastings.
“It’s important to me that they don’t move school because that is where their bonding and their self-esteem is being built. Don’t look at my 18 year old and try and find a solution for him, look at my little ones – if we can find solutions for them, we have 10 years, 20 years to put them in place. Self confidence and security are very important and a lot of that comes from the school. Prevention is better than a cure when it comes to social issues.”
Janet describes how many people living in poverty would rather keep their kids home than admit to difficulties such as a lack of transport or food for school lunches.
“Council could also help with employment for our youth. There’s so many parks and gardens they could get young people working in them, that would give them a good start.”
Satellite training facilities linked to EIT would also help, Janet believes, saying that a local answer to social issues is better than one coming from central government.
“Local everything, is what we need,” says Janet, using as an illustration changes to Housing New Zealand when they moved from local offices to a centralised call centre. HNZ has now gone back to case-managers based locally.
“Working near where you live would be ideal because we’re all about eliminating costs,” explains Janet.
“To get by in life you need a plan and these kids can’t do that on their own, we’ve got to back them.”
Janet believes our councils could learn a lot from families like hers. “We have to ask ourselves constantly: Is this something we want or something we need? We have to weigh it up. Schools should do that: Do we want a new playground? Or should we buy a van? Council could be thinking that way too – fix it, don’t replace it.”
Issues of connectivity, isolation and mobility dominate the challenges of being an older adult in Hawke’s Bay. Bus routes that fully consider the needs of the user, roads and footpaths that are safe and accessible, communication links, and community hubs that support people in actively engaging in the world around them – all have heightened value when you’re over 65.
Many of the issues are a series of tiny needs that cumulatively affect an individual’s quality of life. They might seem insignificant to others, but are in fact essential to that person’s wellbeing. It’s not a case of ‘grumpy old men’ (and women), but more one of when you’re older, holes in footpaths and seats in bus-stops are all-important.
But there are also some more weighty issues involved, mainly connected to health.
Vulnerable and isolated
Marilyn Scott is the pastoral care coordinator at Heretaunga Seniors. The day centre provides meals, entertainment and activities to older people from across Hastings four days a week.
In her role Scott sees a whole range of older people living with the full gamut of challenges. Scott’s experience is that there are many vulnerable older people in the community, and many living a very isolated life, so things like social gatherings, and transport to get them there are literally life-savers.
One of the really good things Hastings District Council has done in the past is to provide Heretaunga Seniors with vans, now it’s down to the centre to keep them running.
“That was enormous for us because a real inhibitor to people coming along is transport. Our main goal is to support people to live independently in their own homes, that is made much easier because we can go and pick them up and get them home again,”
But annually Heretaunga Seniors receives limited funding, and no support from the council.
“We get nothing from the DHB or from HDC, but we provide assistance for many issues including nutrition, depression, isolation. I’d like to think that Council would come to talk to us. I don’t think they even know we exist.”
Heretaunga Seniors sees 100 people through its doors every week and relies on the goodwill of 30 volunteers who work with seniors alongside two paid employees.
“It’s up to little agencies like us – but it can be very hit and miss. For every one we see there are probably five or six who should come. But we’re dealing with a generation that’s self-reliant, independent and they won’t ask for anything. We have a real cross section of people, some can afford to come to every session, some can only afford to come once a week.”
Sessions cost around $12 and included is a two-course hot meal. Some attend, but leave before the meal because they can’t afford it.
“I’ve visited homes in winter where the power is off. People have no energy, they get depressed, they are less inclined to feed themselves properly,” says Scott.
Trends in health in the community at large, alongside an increasing older population, mean the needs traditionally associated with age are being seen in younger people.
“People in their 50s and 60s are experiencing issues connected to old age, including diabetes, arthritis, obesity, depression, so they’re older, younger,” explains Scott.
An added complication in the lives of some older people is younger generations who move in with them.
“Quite regularly the elderly are subsidising their children – people in their 80s have their children moving in with them, and they may be in their 60s, and there’s often health issues involved too, and that can be a real strain on that older person.”
There are also many seniors who are primary caregivers to grandchildren, yet another set of issues.
In some cases additional pressures come hand in hand with abuse and violence.
“Some of our elderly are at risk from their own family members. We often know there are problems at home because we see that person on a regular basis and we flag it if they don’t turn up, then we can do home visits.”
Greater sharing of information between doctors and other health professionals could mean older adults are referred to places like Heretaunga Seniors. Issues with isolation, loneliness, depression and poor health could be alleviated, at least a little bit, by people attending social hubs.
“Our local representatives should be meeting with medical practitioners and asking ‘Where are the gaps for our most vulnerable?’”
A lack of connectedness is a theme, in terms of councils’ knowledge of what’s happening in the community, and the community’s knowledge of what services and help is available.
“I believe councils can never forsake that role of social wellbeing. It is not enough to just stick to rates, roads and rubbish.
Vunerable people can also fall through the cracks between local and central government as they bandy about whose role it is to help.
“One of the challenges is that social spend is hard to budget, unlike roads and rubbish, because councils can’t get quotes on what the issue will cost them to fix. But the real test of a society’s health is how they treat their most vulnerable – their young and their old.”
Poverty is obviously a problem for Hawke’s Bay. Many of our citizens live on much less than the average wage and we have a high percentage of beneficiaries.
Councils are restricted in what they can do to alleviate that poverty. The recent 2012 Local Government Act I
feel will further restrict their ability.
The answer to poverty is jobs. Not everyone can work but full employment for those who can, would make a huge contribution to solving the problem. Local bodies can help create those jobs. Assisting small business start-ups, using local businesses wherever possible and promoting Tourism to increase the wealth of the city and therefore job opportunities are examples.
Community development also has a large role to play. Helping communities help themselves.
I would see Napier City Council encouraging community based schemes to pass on skills to young people to help them into employment. Similar schemes in Otorohanga have proved very successful.
I don’t do anything with BayBuzz, so I’m not interested in being part of the article.
Education is one of the long term solutions, stronger schools providing a better education for all students so they can reach their true potential. We also need to have a stronger impetus for further education at our very own EIT, with a push on much needed trades and IT courses.
Health services that is proactive in prevention and more affordable doctor and prescription fees for our lower families. Councils providing our communities with first class open spaces, amenities & infrastructure. All making our cities better places to live.
Job creation through economic development is the solution. We need to be encouraging more growth of our current businesses and nurture up and coming new businesses. With the expectation that this will provide much needed new work for Hawke’s Bay.
As Mayor of Napier City my primary focus will be ensuring that my Council team is both proactive and reactive in terms of community engagement and social wellbeing. The most critical factor for improving the situation for many in our city is the creation of sustainable jobs that pay at least a living wage. The Council’s planned business park is a wise investment that will contribute support for new business growth, the source of new jobs, and EIT will strive to educate people for those jobs.
However, too many people are losing hope of achieving a better life, or worse, any life at all. As Mayor of Napier City I will provide strong leadership on issues that affect our vulnerable communities – my area of both expertise and experience, from all perspectives. I have a blueprint for achieving better reach and engagement at no more cost, through better cross-sectoral and political collaboration at the top, across the region – as Mayor of Napier I can lead that change for a better Napier and HB.
Poverty is a real issue in Napier. Though many people may have no insight into the way poverty negatively impacts on every facet of everyday life, for those who live ‘below the breadline’ the hardship is real. Left unchecked, poverty leads to complex social problems that impact on us all.
Local Government can and should be more responsive and proactive about this issue. People need hope, help and opportunities; as Mayor I would do everything possible to provide all three.
We need practical, positive initiatives that tackle both the cause and results of poverty. We need to start with the basics such as food and shelter. Addressing the 100+ vacant state houses in Maraenui would lead to positive change, as would lobbying Central Government to ensure better co-ordination of social spending in our region. Improving Council partnerships with existing community groups should be a core focus for the future. Seeking World Health Organisation ‘Age-Friendly’ designation would maximise the health and wellbeing of our current and future senior population.
Driving economic growth/job creation through streamlined systems and a ‘can do’ solution-focused Council approach is also required.
I see Council’s role as that of being a positive influencer in regards to addressing poverty. Council has the ability to change behavior for the better through partnering with others and encouraging positive behavior to bring about social change.
An example would be using leaders within local iwi to take on the main task in supporting and providing role models to disadvantaged young Māori. Council could have a positive influence on this process by providing support, training and opportunities for organisations that help these young people. For example, Council could offer a partnering scheme whereby willing unemployed people would be placed alongside willing council workers to provide work experience opportunities and help our community at the same time.
We have to explore all ideas as the situation of poverty is very complex and I believe the solution will have to include many facets in order to be successful.
Social service delivery is almost always hampered by organisational issues, rather than the skills or commitment of people on the ground – be they medical professionals or community volunteers.
I see local government’s role in this area as a facilitator, rather than a principal provider. To be truly sustainable, social service delivery must be driven by the community itself – by the people who best understand the need.
In my own experience, as initiator of the Kai Collective in Flaxmere, board member of Rugby League Hawke’s Bay, and Chair of Age Concern Havelock North, it comes down to finding the right people for community leadership roles and giving them the resources they need to do their job.
As mayor, I would work towards greater sharing of knowledge and resources among community organisations to ensure that the central government funding we do receive reaches those who need it most.
Insufficient income contributes to social issues and Mäori and Pacific people are 3 times more likely to
I don’t believe it is the HDC role to provide direct support for people in need, but rather it must create the environment for an expanded economy.
Instead of projects that increase debt and council spending such as the $8-$9 million for Civic Square upgrade, we must concentrate on things that will expand the economy.
Fruit picking and other low wage, limited skill, seasonal and uncertain jobs are not the solution. We must improve the education and skill levels in our community and I propose a maximum effort to get 1000 a year more Government-funded local tertiary positions, as well as expanding other meaningful, skill creating options.
We need to rebuild our tourism industry, and for this to happen a better air service including direct flights to Australia is essential.
The issues around low GDP growth, poor health statistics and job opportunities are the biggest challenges facing the region. In simple terms we are falling way behind.
The region currently operates in a completely fragmented way without truly identifying the size of the challenge.
If I was able to make changes I would do the following:
- Appoint one Chief Executive to manage the complete Government spend in the region across health, education, welfare, housing and employment. Currently the region receives nearly $900 million per year from the Crown. It is my view that a significant portion of this is wasted on short-term, non-sustainable contracts that are not connected. Equally there is no regional Master Plan to prioritise this spend around agreed outcomes.
- Put significantly more resources into competing for business activity to stimulate job growth.
- Reorganise the Councils to a Unitary Authority to allow one Mayor and Council to systematically approach the problem.