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September 25, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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Porirua Rally against Poverty

Members of the Porirua and Wellington communities came together at Cannons Creek School on September 19 for a rally against poverty. Chaired by Porirua Mayor Mike Tana, the event involved conversations, questions, and a performance by Virtuoso Strings Youth Orchestra.

The evening was framed by storytelling. After an opening address by Tana, Green Party Spokesperson for Social Development Jan Logie began with an anecdote about a woman who approached her when she first came into parliament. She had been struggling to pay for her studies and support her family following government cuts to the training incentive allowance for sole parents.

“The only way that she could work out to be able to do that, and make sure that her kids were looked after, was to do sex work; and she didn’t want to do that.”

The woman sought advice from Logie about going to the media, as a means of holding the government to account for the decisions that affected her and her family.

“She went ahead with it, and then the government misrepresented her. They made out that she was on the benefit earning more than $40,000 a year. She was marginalised in her community. And I felt responsible, because we hadn’t been able to defend her against the government’s misrepresentation.”

Logie expressed concern that this woman’s experience, of having private information released, was one shared by many.

“So, that’s made my job really hard, because we change the world through stories, through understanding each other’s situations. But when people are too scared to come forward, other people don’t know what they’re experiencing, and it becomes harder for them to empathise and realise how urgent this change is.”

Following Logie’s address, former Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei spoke of how her own storytelling, in regard to her experiences as a beneficiary, came at a cost.

“It’s been a bit of a rough ride,” she reflected. “I told my story because I needed the country to understand that the safety net our grandparents built for us has been torn to shreds. […] There is something deeply wrong with the way our welfare system treats the people who are part of it.”

However, she remained positive in her call for change. “I can tell you now, the cost has been worth it. It has been the right thing to do. When we tell our truths we can change the world.”

One of the major criticisms in the discussion was of the punitiveness of the welfare system. Turei and the audience discussed experiences of individuals being punished for offering assistance to their whanau — one individual was evicted from their Housing New Zealand home after housing their homeless grandmother; another had part of her benefit cut after receiving some birthday money from a family member.

“Being kind to our loved ones puts them at financial risk.”

While many of the solutions discussed by Turei and Logie focused on party policies, they stressed that a discussion on poverty was about more than the election. “It’s about changing the way we do politics,” Logie remarked.

“This is about putting communities first.”

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