59 year old kaumatua, Sam Kuha has now gone without food for 30 days. He has chosen to engage in this hunger strike to raise awareness of the poverty that exists in Aotearoa and in particular, how the government chooses to deal with it.
In his case, the meager $18 a week he was left for food with after bills were paid required him to request an emergency grant for food, however was told that he’d have to make an appointment with a budget advisor meaning he had a two week wait before he could even access the emergency grant.
Matua Sam just received a letter from Paula Bennett this afternoon after the Minister for Social Development contacted MP Hone Harawira who’s been leading a charge amongst the other parties for support for Sam. Bennett said if Sam comes off the hunger strike, she would be willing to come to Kaikohe and listen to his concerns face to face. A draft reply has been prepared and will be forwarded to Paula through Hone’s office tomorrow morning.
This is a great victory for Sam who’s been without food for one month. Bennett will meet with him within the next couple of weeks so there will be a lot of media attention on this too. But as Sam says, the battle has just begun as the Gov prepares itself to vote into law the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill.
According to the Parliament website, submissions to the Social Services select committee are due by 1 November and the committee is due to report back to Parliament on the bill in March next year.
What the bill will do:
- The bill will replace the 7 current benefit categories with 3 new categories – 1) Jobseeker Support for those actively seeking and available for work; 2) Sole Parent Support for sole parents with children under 14 years; and 3) Supported Living Payment for people significantly restricted by sickness, injury or disability. Those currently on a sickness benefit will be in the first category (Jobseeker Support) and have work expectations put on them – which tells you all you need to know about what’s actually being done with this bill.
- The bill will also require Jobseekers to be drug-free, and will allow benefits to be stopped for those with outstanding arrest warrants.
- It will also introduce obligations on parents to have their kids enrolled in early childhood education/kohanga and at a doctors or have their benefits cut by up to 50%, even though some areas have huge waiting lists to get in to doctors and ECE/kohanga.
There is a petition for those who would like to show their support for Sam. I read out some of the comments to Sam today and he was deeply humbled.
There’s also a campaign page for those on Facebook: