The Very Real Rise of the Working Poor in New Zealand

A report released last week has shown that 50,000 working households in New Zealand fall below the poverty line. Salvation Army food banks see the battle low-income workers face every day. 

Katie* is working a 48-hour week on minimum wage. Despite her long hours, she’s hoping to pick up extra work so she can afford Christmas presents for her children. She first came to The Salvation Army for a food parcel, and is currently working with a budget advisor to help her meet the basics of life, as well as pay off debts due to excessive housing costs.

If you do the math, the plight of the ‘working poor’ becomes clear. A 40-hour week on the minimum wage of $17.70 per hour means a take-home pay of $603 per week. The average rent in New Zealand for a 3-4 bedroom house is $525 per week. Even with some government support, it doesn't go far enough to meet basic needs like food, power, clothing and other bills.

‘Rents are so horrific now, it’s not just beneficiaries, it’s low income workers coming in for food parcels,’ confirms Lorraine Brooks, Salvation Army Community Ministries Manager in Glenfield, Auckland.The majority are struggling to pay the rent, pay the power and put food on the table. Putting on Christmas is just not realistic.’ 

Some of the stories are shocking to those of us lucky enough not to need Salvation Army services. One man came in asking for toothbrushes. He was the sole income earner in a family of eight—and they were all having to share the same toothbrush. ‘When you don’t have the money, that is a reality. He was a working dad on a single income, trying hard to provide for his family,’ says Pam Hughes, Salvation Army Community Ministries Regional Director for South Auckland.

Katie says she was especially grateful to receive tampons in her food parcel, so she could give them to her teenage daughter—they had been forced to resort to toilet paper. Other women say they’ve had to use rags. 

Seven percent of households with at least one working adult are now living below the poverty line, according to the Human Rights Commission Report. This means one in 10 children are living in poverty.

The argument that everyone in New Zealand gets a fair go if they’re willing to work hard is a myth. Low income workers living in poverty are real and on the rise. 

New Zealanders are generous at heart, though. Through The Foodbank Project, you’ve given literally thousands of items to Salvation Army food banks. When hard-working families can’t make ends meet, your much-needed donations help fill food bank shelves so thank you.