Māori most vulnerable to economic impacts of COVID-19, Salvation Army says

By Jessica Tyson

People losing their income, housing and jobs as a result of COVID-19 will be the new face of social need in New Zealand with Māori and Pasifika the most vulnerable.

That's according to the latest Salvation Army monitoring report which has found vulnerable groups already emerging at Salvation Army social services throughout New Zealand, including people who have lost their jobs and households unable to meet rent and mortgage costs.

Housing crisis

The report says COVID-19 has deepened the housing crisis and people unable to pay their rent or mortgage could soon add to an already out of control need for social housing. 

“Households needing to trade down will increase demand pressure on government programmes of accommodation supplement, transitional housing and social housing,” the report says.

At present, 15,495 are on the waiting list for social housing with more than 5000 households isolated in transitional or emergency housing.

Māori and unemployment

The report says the most vulnerable to rising unemployment are Māori and Pasifika workers who already have unemployment rates more than twice that of the rest of the workforce.

“Combined with another socio-economic disadvantage, Māori and Pasifika are more vulnerable to the epidemic and its economic impacts. The hospitalisation and death rate for Māori in the 2009 influenza epidemic was 2.5 times that of non-Māori and for Pasifika people higher again.”

While the current infection rate is lower for Māori and Pacific ethnicities, health experts warn that it is also still rising, and are calling for better testing and health coverage for the communities with higher Māori and Pacific populations, the report says.

Employment Minister Willie Jackson says Māori ministers are working on an additional response package to help Māori unemployment.

“Included in that is, of course, our programmes that I have already been working on including Mana in Mahi, helping young people in terms of apprenticeships, He Poutama Rangatahi, where we’re working in the regions, working with communities in terms of uplifting young people, says Jackson.

“We have to support our people. I don’t want the Māori unemployment rate blowing out to 20 or 30 percent,” says Jackson.

Māori ministers developing response package to help Māori unemployment

Demand for kai

The Salvation Army is concerned that there are new groups of people and whānau entering financial hardship and vulnerability with this pandemic.

This view is reinforced through foodbank hubs around the country, who report many receiving food parcels are first-time users of our foodbank services.

“Just under 6,000 food parcels were distributed in the week to 14 April. This was four times as many food parcels as a month earlier in the week to 17 March,” the report says.

National Social Policy Director Ian Hutson says New Zealand cannot rely as it has in the past on government and charitable supported, community-based food banks to meet this new food demand.

"The opportunity of this crisis is to break out of the cycle of food poverty and create a society where no-one goes hungry, based on social, economic and welfare responses that are sustainable, structural and mana enhancing," says Hutson. 

Immigrants

Also of concern is the situation of workers from overseas who are in Aotearoa on temporary work visas and who actively contributed to New Zealand’s hospitality and agricultural workforce and productivity.

The report says these workers have lost their employment and are not eligible for welfare assistance.

"The Salvation Army encourages the Government to enable people to return to their countries of origin or to provide income support during the forced closure of their workplaces."

Government to resolve housing crisis

The Salvation Army says COVID-19 also provides a unique opportunity for the Government to resolve New Zealand's housing crisis and conditions are right for a multi-billion investment in housing to address the crisis.

“Such an investment should include social housing through a significant social house building programme; the boosting of homeownership with a national progressive homeownership programme giving all households with an income over $60,000 the chance to own a home of their own. It should also include the creation of a new public supply of houses for rent.”

Housing Minister Dr Megan Woods says ensuring all New Zealanders are as safe as possible from the impacts of COVID-19 is a top priority for the government.

She says officials across government are working with housing providers, iwi and Māori organisations, local government and social services to ensure our most vulnerable people have somewhere to live.