Today in New Zealand we had a budget delivered, with great fanfare John Key announced his massive attack on poverty. A huge 25.00 per week for single parents and low income families. In this case a low income family is counted as someone who is earning less than 17.50 or so per hour for a 40 hour week. In my town that won’t even pay for one of my children to visit the doctor, it would take 10 extra weeks to gather enough to pay for a couple of fillings, it might pay for one child’s school uniform and fees for the year, how is that going to impact on child poverty? In the mean time the rent will have risen and taken care of the 25.00, school fees will have risen because the rise in the general grant will only be 1% this year, not even the rate of inflation.
I had a stark reminder of the face of child poverty tonight. I was shopping at a supermarket and the guy in front of me was making a single purchase, a can of infant formula. He had a worried expression on his face and ran his fingers through his change seeming to count it, he placed the tin on the counter and said how much is that? 17:99 said the checkout operator, I’ll have to come back he said, the operator shot a glance at me and I at him, we both knew he wasn’t coming back, the look of desperation and sadness on his face told me everything I needed to know, it was like I could see the wheels moving in his head, where can I find $4:00,
It was cold and wet outside, his clothes looked inadequate for the weather, they had clearly seen better days and his feet were blue from the cold, rubber Jandals were what he was wearing. Ill pay the balance I found myself saying, “what was that he said, I’ll make up the difference, he said” no mate I can’t accept that”, I said it’s not for you. Been there done that I said to make him feel better, not quite true I have been broke before but always enough food in our house. He handed over the $14:00 he had and I paid the rest, he turned to me tears in his eyes and said you don’t know what this means, I think I did, he turned and left and I was filled with regret. Four miserable dollars, I should have paid for the lot, invariably I will have the same amount of money at the end of the week.
The checkout operator said it was the hardest part of her job watching as people put things back as they didn’t have enough to pay, and she said it’s not tobacco and alcohol going back it is food, bread butter. She said it is hard, she feels the tears welling up and there is nothing she can do, she is not allowed to. She said it was the first time she had seen somebody do something about it like I had, she said I was a good man. Well you know what I think about that moniker, from some of my posts (https://kiwipaulspoetry.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/if-someone-tells-me-i-am-a-good-man-one-more-time/) a good man, like heck I am. I couldn’t stop and tell her why I wasn’t a good man, I just thanked her and left.
I am not telling this story because I want people to know that I am a kind man, I am relaying the story to show the face of poverty. For me the decision to pay for the balance was easy. It is about retaining my integrity, looking myself in the mirror, if I thought that by my lack of compassion a baby was going to miss out on food then that is just too bloody awful to contemplate. I don’t care if he smoked or drank, although there was no evidence of the above and if he had put formula back on the shelf and bought tobacco or alcohol I would have given him the edge of my tongue. Judgemental? Absolutely. So an easy decision to make.
The question is how do I make it right for the children living in cold, damp overcrowded houses, the children who don’t get to the doctor, the children who just don’t eat right. How do I make it right for the pensioner shivering in the cold because they are scared of the next big power bill? How do I make that right, it is just as unacceptable…
I intend to write on this over the next few weeks (as usual with a few distractions) tonight I am grateful for friends, family, warmth and love.