Yesterday I went on my first official trip as an MP, to Whangarei. My colleagues tell me the novelty of the travel will wear off, but I don’t think the buzz from connecting directly with people doing amazing and inspiring work on the issues I care about is going to wear off any time soon.
The main purpose of my trip was to meet with Jazmine Heka, the 16 year old from Whangarei who has started the Children Against Poverty campaign. Jazmine was inspired to take action when she watched Bryan Bruce’s controversial Inside Child Poverty documentary which screened last year in the week before the election (and is available to view on demand for three more days). You might have read about Jazmine and her campaign in the Sunday Star Times a couple of weeks ago.
Jazmine is seeking signatures on three petitions: to introduce warrants of fitness for all rental houses, to provide free healthcare for all children including prescription costs, and to provide free healthy school lunches to all children attending schools. She is hoping to come to Wellington and present the petitions to Parliament in the middle of the year, which leaves plenty of time for collecting signatures: you can download the petitions to print, gather signatures, and mail them back.
It was both exciting and challenging to meet with Jazmine. Exciting to see the issue being taken up by a young person who can speak directly and passionately about it, and who can raise awareness and take the campaign to another level. Challenging because her campaign is confronting all politicians to put their money where their mouths are on the issue of child poverty.
I talked about how the Greens made bringing 100,000 children out of poverty one of our top three priorities during the election campaign, about our Warm Healthy Rentals bill, which would achieve her aim of having a “warrant of fitness” for rental properties, and about our work to establish a cross-party group of MPs working on child poverty and inequality (The Aotearoa Equality Group, which so far has members from the Greens, Labour, and the Maori Party).
I left feeling there is even more we can do. I’m determined that Child Poverty will stay at the top of the political agenda until we get some meaningful action from the Government. As luck, or coincidence, would have it, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett was in Whangarei yesterday too, consulting on her Green Paper for Vulnerable Children. I know she met with Jazmine too, and I hope she takes Jazmine’s challenge seriously.
In the afternoon I took the opportunity to visit 155 Community Whare. Carol Peters and the team at 155 (named after its address of 155 Kamo Road) know lots about child poverty from their frontline community work. Indeed, researchers for the Inside Child Poverty documentary that inspired Jazmine to take action did much of their research in the area, and spoke to 155 and its affiliated services in preparing the documentary.
Over a cup of tea at the kitchen table (the 155 kaupapa is to build a better world over a cup of tea, a philosophy with which I wholeheartedly concur) I spoke with members of 155’s legal advocacy, whanau support, youth, and housing teams and was blown away at what they are able to achieve with scarce resources.
Since it was established in the 1990s, 155 whare has established a patient-owned health service, a school for young people at risk of disengagement, an emergency housing service, a community law centre, and even a television channel! Many of these are now fully independent entities but remain affiliated with 155. It’s a truly inspiring place, founded on principles of community ownership, and achieving great results.
155 and other community services are up against it though, with the scale of poverty and disengagement in the North. We talked about increasing demand for food services (both for food parcels and for food in schools), long waiting lists for budgeting services, the harmful effects on children of increasing sanctions against beneficiaries as a result of the Future Focus changes last year, the adult stresses children are exposed to when their parents experience financial hardship, the growing pressures on emergency housing services in Whangarei, and the ever-present dynamic of gangs and the black market economy.
I left Whangarei feeling overwhelmed with the scale of the issues, but buzzing from the connection with people doing great work, and inspired about the task ahead of me as the new Green Party Spokesperson for Children, Housing and Youth. These issues are why I got into politics – now I get to tackle them head on.