There has been a huge growth in inequality, with the gap between rich and poor wider than at any time since World War Two.
Auckland is booming - just not for everyone. An official report obtained as part of a joint Stuff/Newshub investigation reveals the yawning gaps in a prosperity index across different parts of the city. In part one of a three-part report, Carmen Parahi and Simon Shepherd examine the five areas of Auckland with the lowest social deprivation scores.
Mary Moeke describes herself as a middle-class Māori.
She earns a decent wage teaching early childhood education at the Manukau Institute of Technology. Moeke is highly educated and is currently studying for a PhD.
But she is struggling. Until recently, she was homeless. Moeke’s single income has to cover the costs of living for herself and three sons, aged 3, 6 and 8. She has very little; most of what is in her Housing New Zealand home is donated.
“Very scary, very alone. You feel very vulnerable especially being a single mother with young children under the age of 8 years old. Insecure and unsafe, that is how I would describe it.”
Moeke is part of what is being called the New Urban Crisis - the decline of the middle class. It’s a global phenomenon and Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, is no exception.
It’s been a decade since the Global Financial Crisis and although the developed world has slowly recovered, at a macro or city level, the economic gains haven’t helped residents who were struggling with poverty. Instead, New Zealand’s strong economic recovery since 2012, has widened the disparity to include the poor and now, the working and middle class.
Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) and Infometrics have identified a range of issues in their Auckland Prosperity Index released exclusively to Newshub and Stuff.
The index measures prosperity for all 21 Local Boards using 24 indicators grouped into six domains: skills and labour force, demography, connectedness, business activity, economic quality and household prosperity.
The most prosperous boards are Albert-Eden, Devonport-Takapuna, Orākei, Upper Harbour and Waitematā. The boards with the least wealth are all of the five South Auckland boards Mangere-Ōtāhuhu, Manurewa, Maungakiekie-Tāmaki, Ōtara-Papatoetoe and Papakura.
Six boards are experiencing average prosperity but the bottom two from West Auckland, Henderson-Massey and Whau have similar levels to South Auckland.
The results for the five outlying boards (including Waiheke, Great Barrier, Franklin, Rodney and the Waitakere Ranges) have to be viewed in isolation because of the locations and lifestyles of the residents in those areas.
ATEED describes prosperous households as those with high incomes, employment, disposable income, not on benefits, and more likely to be able to buy their own home.
The results track:
- Annual household income
- Home ownership rate
- Percentage of 15 to 64-year-olds who are on benefits
- Rental affordability
- Unemployment rate
Each household was scored from 0-10, the Auckland average is 4.7.
The differences between the lowest and highest boards are astounding.
Ōtara-Papatoetoe is 0.7 compared to Ōrākei at 9.8.
The report shows Auckland is two cities - one city for the haves and another for the have nots; a wide gap between the rich and poor.
South Auckland is very diverse and it’s very different but you can definitely say there is inequality and disparity. It’s alive and well and exists here,” says Mary Moeke.
ATEED’s general manager for economic growth, Patrick McVeigh, says the paradox is Auckland has been doing really well with increased job creation, strong GDP growth and a number of sectors are booming including the housing market and technology industry.
“But what we are seeing is the benefits of that are not trickling down, so the benefits of growth are not reaching all communities in all places and that is a concern,” says McVeigh.
“It's also putting pressure on housing and infrastructure. The more that people are disconnected from those economic opportunities then they are not going to get the chance to prosper and grow.”
When Moeke’s marriage ended last year she sold their house in South Auckland. But her ex-husband disputed the sale so she can’t access the money until it’s settled. She applied for 38 rentals in the area, using up what little savings she had. For three months, she couch surfed or slept on floors with her children in the homes of friends and family.
But they were struggling too, so Moeke wouldn’t stay long.
“From what I’ve witnessed and experienced there’s too much pressure on these families. They’ve got so many things going on in their lives they don’t know how to cope and they just boil over,” she says.
In the end, Moeke slept in her van with the boys for six weeks. She took unpaid leave from her job to try to support them but couldn’t access any social services support.
“When I did go to WINZ the lady helping me was almost brought to tears because she couldn’t help me, I didn’t meet the criteria. She wished there was another way.”
ATEED’s report identified significant income disparity across Auckland, especially in South and West Auckland. The income levels in Māngere and Ōtara-Papatoetoe are 22 per cent lower than the Auckland average.
Ōtara-Papatoetoe Board chairwoman Lotu Fuli says the report validates what they’ve known for years and why they’ve advocated for stronger support not only from the Auckland Council but also the Government.
“I have got to say in the last 10 years it has got worse, I have never seen the disparity as bad as it is,” says Fuli.
We are not getting the same benefits that Auckland is getting from this rockstar economy that we have heard about.
She says they’ve seen more homeless and increased unemployment in the area, especially after the Fisher & Paykel appliances factory closed in 2016. The proportion of 15-64 year olds without work in her area is 10.1 per cent, nearly twice the Auckland average. Across New Zealand the rate is 4.5 per cent, the lowest in nine years.
“It was frustrating to say to people, ‘hey we need help, we need more money here’ when the story being put out everywhere else was we've got this amazing growth, we have this great economy, everything’s booming you should be okay and it's your fault if you are not.”
Moeke believes she’s coped well even though she was homeless. While sleeping in their van in a public car park underneath a tree full of fairy lights, she would tell her children everything would work out for them.
Six weeks after the whānau began sleeping in their van, they were taken in by Te Puea Marae in Mangere Bridge.
“I was interviewed by the housing rep and Whitiao, the senior social services leader, and then I was offered a cabin there with the three boys. I met their criteria. I was like a stunned mullet. I didn’t know if it was real or it was a dream.”
While the whānau was at Te Puea they were housed and fed, and received wraparound care - including health, housing, legal and social services. Two weeks later, they were helped into their own Housing NZ home in South Auckland. Te Puea Marae will continue to support them in the first few weeks as they adjust to their new life.
Moeke says: “I count my lucky stars that I have the knowledge and understanding that’s helped me to be resilient and resourceful to get me through this.”
Whitiao Paul helped Moeke resettle the family. She says Moeke’s homeless story is different from the majority she sees but there are underlying issues she shares with many of the other families at Te Puea Marae.
Paul first volunteered at the marae in 2016, the year it temporarily opened its doors to homeless families. Due to demand, the service has continued every year since then and so has Paul who is now a full-time, paid social worker.
Since last year, they’ve helped 29 whānau, 113 people and 77 children (2 months to 20 years old) with chronic needs. They range from rotten teeth, strep throat, drugs and alcohol abuse, gangs, to mental health issues. Reasons for being homeless include family violence, over crowding, eviction, affordability, and debt. This year they expanded their service to include employment.
Paul has lived in South Auckland for decades. She says the prosperity report’s findings aren’t new - the disparity has existed for as long as she’s lived in the area.
There has been that gap for a long time, where the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer.
“I just think there are lots of opinions that they have choices, of course they have choices, but they also don't have the opportunities others actually have. There's no equity in terms of jobs.”
Earlier this month the Government launched its $100 million four-year Housing First plan for the homeless from Te Puea Marae. Over a third of it will go towards housing 1500 people this winter and will include transitional, public housing and motel units.
Paul says it’ll help in the short term but the disparity in South Auckland needs to be fixed for homelessness to end.
“What are the local councils doing about it? You know, how are they trying to fix it? If it doesn't come from the top, is it ever going to change?”
The Growing Prosperity report says the South Auckland boards have the highest concentration of Māori and Pasifika peoples.
“And one of the features of that is they are also communities that are also underperforming in terms of skills and qualifications,” says McVeigh.
“If we want to improve outcomes for all Aucklanders we need to be improving access to a range of employment opportunities and the skills needed for the jobs of the future.”
McVeigh acknowledges the tech sector is one industry booming in Auckland. The average wage in computer system design was $99,700 in 2015. The household incomes for the five South Auckland boards range from $59,900 to $67,800, all below the average Auckland average of $76,500.
Fuli says it’s not that simple trying to transition South Aucklanders into high tech jobs. Most are labouring in low skilled, low paying jobs.
We are tying to create opportunities for the local people but there is still that mismatch with training and skills, there is still a whole lot of barriers.
Ironically, South Auckland has a significant share of jobs for the entire region but is still poor compared to other areas because it is less skilled, low paying work.
The Southern Initiative (TSI) was set up by the Auckland Council to help create opportunities through innovation in South Auckland. It has 25 staff but a small budget of $1.8m from the Council and about $1m in Government contracts to deal with significant issues.
It also manages the Council’s fees-free Māori and Pacific Trades Training (MPTT), a pre-apprenticeship programme for locals aged from 16 to 40 years old.
Sulia Pepa is a very shy 18-year-old who lives in Manurewa with her Mum. She started the course last year and is currently on the job training with Citycare. The Christchurch-based company is responsible for a variety of Auckland Council maintenance contracts. But they will be laying off 100 staff from across the country. Sulia will experience a range of jobs from fixing park bollards, to road maintenance, labouring on infrastructure projects and carpentry.
“I think young people struggle to find jobs really, because people are looking for experienced workers and young people usually won't have that, like myself, I struggled after leaving school. I found the MPTT teaching programme, I went through that and now I have got this job,” says Pepa.
Each candidate has to complete their studies before they go onto a three-month trial then a cadetship and - hopefully - a three-year apprenticeship. Pepa is keen to become a chippy and build her mother a home in the Cook Islands.
South Auckland's actually not bad, there's a lot of talent here, a lot of willing people here, honest, you just have to get to know them really.
Dale Williams takes care of the MPTT trainees.
“We see poverty all the time coming through our offices,” says Williams. “Apprenticeships are going to assist more families to get out of this poverty struggle we’re facing in South Auckland.”
There’s far too many brown people in low paying unskilled jobs and its been like that for many, many years,
Williams has lived in South Auckland all her life. Her dad is a sparkie who learnt his trade through the Māori trades training courses that ran during the 1970s and 80s.
She’s been trialling a pastoral care system for the trainees, requiring one-on-one help while they study and on the job. The Manurewa Local Board has funded two Pasifika job coaches for TSI. Williams is looking for more help for her trainees.
“The hardest thing for them is where they see themselves in the next six months, twelve months, next three years. In six weeks, we map out what they need to do,” she says.
“We’re aiming for our students to get into jobs but not just any jobs - it has to be a job with meaning and purpose and it has to align with their career aspirations.”
Often Williams is dealing with issues of drug and alcohol rehabilitation, childcare support and advocacy with social service providers. TSI pays for driving licences and travel to and from interviews, medical appointments and jobs. They will also drug test their trainees.
“It’s about changing mindsets too. What are they prepared to do? Are they prepared to do whatever it takes to land a great job and what does that look like?
It’s a lot of work one-on-one but if that means we’re going to get greater results and more people off meth, synthetics and weed I’m going to keep doing it.
Williams says employers are aware of the issues facing her trainees, including those who are sole earners living in crowded homes and who are relying on the meagre income. All of the trainees start on the minimum wage but she pushes them to earn more quickly. Success is when a candidate earns over $20 an hour.
Lotu Fuli from the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Board believes young South Aucklanders need better education, not manual work. Three of the five South Auckland boards rated highly for jobs expected to be replaced by automation. Fuli’s board has the highest rating and she’s concerned.
“It's about giving young people the kind of education that opens up all those opportunities. So they are not just funnelled into traditional jobs. Otherwise the gap’s going to get bigger.”
But Williams believes the priority should be jobs for those who can’t afford to study full time.
“If there’s opportunities within those sectors for advancing technology, starting businesses by all means and we will support them if they express an interest,” says Williams.
“But the majority of my young people and our matures they just need jobs to survive right now and to get out of this poverty they’re all facing on a daily basis. So jobs is what they’re wanting right now.”
She prefers people get jobs with a great hourly rate and then apply technical skills training while they’re at work. This is something she’s been doing with a few of her trainees.
“I want to see more people entering into technical skilled jobs there are so many available why are we going overseas to recruit when we’ve got the potential here. All they need is coaching, training and good employers to give them a second chance.”
As for Mary Moeke, she’s grateful for what she has now as she starts to rebuild her family’s lives. She plans to advocate for the homeless and those like her, who fell through gaps in the social welfare system.
“If New Zealand and the Government really wants to make a difference for our future generations, as well as for us in the here and now, they would promote equality.”
Although she plans to ensure her own children are educated, she is concerned by the Growing Prosperity report and evidence the gap between the rich and poor has not been fixed.
In all honesty, I’m afraid of the future for my children because I don’t see prosperity happening. I am doubting whether it will happen in the next 10 years if we go the way we are going.
Auckland news camera team
Dan Woodfield and Jake Ji
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