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Real Life on the DPB


This interview with Kaye Richards looks at what it's like to live on the smell of an oily rag. 'Just about everything that isn’t nailed down goes on Trade Me and that sometimes makes the difference between paying rent or not.Interview with Kaye Richards

AWSM: Let’s start with a bit of background information. Can you tell us who you are?

Kaye: My name is Kaye Richards. I’m 40 and a solo mum living in Naenae, Lower Hutt.

AWSM: Where did you grow up? What was it like?

Kaye: I mostly grew up going back and forth between Wellington and Palmerston North because of my father’s jobs. We weren’t a rich family but we weren’t extremely poor either. We always had stuff to eat, clothes and heat, you know.
AWSM: What about school and your initial working life?

Kaye: I left school at 17 because I got a cabinet making apprenticeship. I was always kind of practical as a kid so it made sense and I was happy with it at first. I never finished the apprenticeship though.

AWSM: Why didn’t you finish it?

Kaye: Well, it was a combination of things. It was partly because the boss was dodgy and he ran the company into bankruptcy but also there was a lot of sexism and that got on my nerves anyway.

AWSM: So what happened after that?

Kaye: I went to work at a clothing retailer in the Wellington CBD. I was there for a couple of years and did o.k. at it I guess. They kept promising a promotion but it never materialised. Then I worked at my partners spray painting business for a few years. We worked all night and the weekends and holidays for no real return. It caused a lot of stress. After that I was at a petrol station.

AWSM: How was that job?

Kaye: Early starts. It was dirty, smelly and boring.[laughs] I’d rather not think about it! After that I worked as a postie which was alright when it wasn’t raining and it kept me fit. Then I had my son so gave the job up. I decided I would have to get better qualified so I could apply for jobs that paid decently and help me provide for him. I made up my mind to go to university.

AWSM: What was your time at university like?

Kaye: Not easy as a solo mum. It took me 10 years altogether to get my degree. When I started I didn’t need to pay course costs up front. That meant I could get jobs in the holidays (I worked in a bar) to meet most of the costs and the rest was covered by the Training Incentive Allowance. Unfortunately the National Party abolished the TIA, so last year I was forced to get a student loan. I did Women’s Studies and Sociology so I could speak a lot from personal experience and I mostly received A or A+ results. I graduated at the beginning of this year and have been job hunting since then.

AWSM: How has your job hunting been now that you’re better qualified?

Kaye: It’s hard at this age and employers expect prior experience when you go for white collar positions. A lot of other jobs require weekend and night shifts or are only short term ones anyway. Though I suppose all jobs are potentially short-term now there is the 90 Day Act [laughs].None of this makes it easy to get after school care for my son and since he has autism, the situation is even more complicated. In short, I haven’t found anything yet.

AWSM: How do you find the cost of living?

Kaye: [laugh] Where do I start?! The cost of rent, food, petrol and electricity have all gone up but the benefit or wages haven’t kept pace with that. The accommodation supplement for example, is not realistic it doesn’t reflect the market for rent. Recently I was denied a $36 overdraft from the bank. When you can’t get loans or credit that means taking stuff to the pawnbroker and they charge 416% p.a. I’m either taking things in there or taking them out every week. Just about everything that isn’t nailed down goes on Trade Me and that sometimes makes the difference between paying rent or not. I’ve had trouble with Baycorp too.

AWSM: How did the Baycorp problem arise?

Kaye: I owed $500 to the power company. I had an arrangement through WINZ that $30 a week came out automatically from my benefit to manage the debt. I was able to reduce the debt down to $197 so I was clearly making progress. Then without warning the company just suddenly took the debt to Baycorp. They added on collection fees. The result is I now have a bad credit rating for the next 5 years. The irony is, that being on a fixed income and having all the costs I do, means I’m still only able to pay them $30 a week which they were regularly getting anyway!

AWSM: So WINZ haven’t helped?

Kaye: Not really. There are a few decent individuals but they are constrained by what they have to work within. I’ve been refused food grants because “you haven’t done anything to improve your situation”. They did refer me to a food bank but the rule is you can only go there once every 6 months.

AWSM: What effect has your overall situation had on you personally?

Kaye: I’ve had depression at times and felt stressed. My finances are always on my mind. Every time the phone rings I wonder if its a debt collector. I’m constantly juggling bills. My son’s autism means he experiences problems at school. Sometimes he wants to invite friends home but I have to weigh up whether there will be food to offer them. If there is fruit I give it to him and go without myself but sometimes neither of us can have any and he cant understand why I have to keep saying “no” when he wants things.

AWSM: This year there will be an election. What’s your view of that?

Kaye: There’s not much choice in the parties out there. Obviously I won’t be supporting National or ACT though! [laughter]

AWSM: So what’s your view of ‘the big picture’ as it were? The way things are in society as a whole?

Kaye: Over the past couple of generations things have moved away from the idea of minimising the income gap between people and the idea that society and its institutions exist to support you. ‘Socialism’ has become a dirty word. Instead we’re getting this neo-liberal model of the ‘deserving poor’ that is a throw-back to the Victorian era. The individual is somehow to blame for his/her situation because he or she is lazy, rather than seeing it as a structural thing. John Key says being on a benefit is “a lifestyle choice”, WINZ and the government make out that getting a job is some kind of panacea but a minimum wage job makes no change to people’s situation.

AWSM: How do you see the future?

Kaye: The present system seems insane! Just because industrial capitalism has been around for a couple of centuries, it doesn’t mean we are incapable of changing things for the better. There are different ways of doing things. We don’t have to destroy the environment in pursuit of an empty consumerism. What about people?

AWSM: Thanks for your time. Good luck.

Christchurch National Party Welcoming Committee

On 5 September, over 40 people protested against the National Party cabinet, which was meeting in a hotel in West Christchurch one year on from the September 2010 quake. PM John Key and other ministers had slept over at the Copthorne Hotel the night before ‘in solidarity with the people of Christchurch.’ How far west can you go away from quake ravaged east Christchurch? How superficial can you be? This meant that it wasn’t possible to protest them entering the hotel but various politicians who turned up in cars were yelled at. There were kids and balloons and heaps of hand-painted banners. There was a strong contingent of Unite union members, along with members of the Tertiary Education Union - who are currently undertaking industrial action at CPIT (Christchurch Polytech) - and other unions.

People in Christchurch are pissed off with the light-hearted manner Gerry Brownlee has talked about the red zone (in which over 5000 houses will need to be pulled down), the paltry government offers on red zone houses, the treatment of workers since the quakes, the lack of genuine input from people into the government’s relief and rebuild operations, and the huge power of the big corporates in rebuilding the city. Masses of bosses have made workers redundant due to the quakes. On top of all this, as one community worker said, the issues in Christchurch are the same as anywhere in the country (e.g. rising prices, low incomes, cuts to working for families, attacks on beneficiaries) – they have just been brought to the foreground by the quakes.

In a city where every fourth car (or more) was tooting in support – many, many people are fuming, and probably a good proportion of those would be keen to turn up to a protest where it’s so tangible – the National Party (Key, Brownlee, Tolley etc) were right there in town. It seems that a year on, lots of people are angry and willing to voice that anger – when earlier perhaps for some they were just in survival mode. In the coming months, it will be great to see the joining of the various issues and networks, and hopefully some larger protests.

Further Christchurch Community Rallies

Since the above protest, at least two small community rallies have been held in September namely one in the suburb of Avonside and another in the satellite town of Kaiapoi. Press reports claimed that about 200 people attended the Avonside one, and over 100 the Kaiapoi one. Both protests were about the paltry offers the government’s CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) have made to ‘buyout’ red zoned land. Other issues include deficient valuations, and a lack of access to detailed geo-technical information. The government is forcing these residents to leave, and if they refuse their offer, they will offer them a much worse deal. Yet many angry residents at the protests said that they will refuse the offers until their concerns are addressed. It is a disgrace that they have been treated this way by this vicious anti working class government after they have experienced the trauma of the quakes and the now compulsory demolition of their homes.'