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Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust social services manager Pikiteora Russell (left) talks with social worker Gena Young. Photo/John Borren

More people are battling poverty and seeking help as the cost of living continues to rise in Tauranga, social agencies say.

Salvation Army Tauranga community ministries manager Davina Plummer said it was dealing with families that only had $25 a week per person for food.

People often ended up in debt for unexpected expenses like car maintenance, “if they were lucky enough to own one”.

“Those things just throw it out, including wanting extra-curricular activities for your children. Most families on a low income or benefit just don’t have that luxury, they may be able to cover the bare basics but they don’t get to participate in a rounded, healthy life.”

Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin said need for its service had increased by 20 per cent this year and “we often only see the tip of the iceberg”.

It had also noticed a spike in wage earners seeking assistance in the past 12 months and they now accounted for 40 per cent of its clients with 60 per cent beneficiaries.

People were living in poverty because of a wide range of reasons including addictions versus the real issues of household income and expenses, making bad money choices, reduced income and over-commitments of credit.

Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust social services manager Pikiteora Russell said “it’s our children [as a community] that are suffering.”

Wages and benefits had not increased to combat the rising cost of rents and other living expenses, she said.

“It has become increasingly difficult when the benefit rate equates to less than the minimum wage and a three-bedroom rental on average is no less than $350 per week.”

From August 2014 the number of women and children without a home had risen, she said.

“We have seen a huge spike in people requiring assistance in regards to this.”

About 80 per cent of its clients are on benefits while 20 per cent are wage earners.

Tauranga Foodbank manager Nicki Goodwin said the number of food parcels given to people had increased by 3 per cent in 2014 compared with 2013.

In the first week of February 2015 it averaged 40 food parcels a day.

Since Christmas there had been an increase in people who had moved to Tauranga needing food parcels, she said.

“People who have moved to our area from other regions such as Auckland because they had nowhere to live and couldn’t afford to live there … have come across the same situation here with housing etcetera.”

The Bay of Plenty Times revealed this month that thousands of tenants could be in for a shock as experts predict rents will continue to rise.

There was a 30 per cent drop in rentals advertised on Trade Me in 2014, and Ross Stanway, chief executive of Realty Services, which operates Bayleys and Eves, said that because demand for good rental properties was higher than supply rental rises were inevitable.

Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti said half of the children on its roll, about 70, were fed each morning at the Breakfast Club.

Some also received lunch that was provided by the St Vincent de Paul Loaves and Fishes project, and members of the public.

It was hard for children from low-income families or those on benefits and the school was determined to support them, she said.

Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said Work and Income was there to help and recipients did not have to be on a benefit.

In 2014 Work and Income issued 4255 food grants in the Tauranga and Mount Maunganui service centres valued at $450,580, compared with 4379 in 2013 valued at $468,743.

The number of people receiving a main benefit registered at the same centres dropped from 6987 to 6357 for the 2013 to 2014 December quarters.

Bay of Plenty Times

By Carmen Hall