Dame Diane Robertson, former chief executive of the Auckland City Mission, shares her experience of working with poverty and the Family 100 Research Project at the TacklingPovertyNZ one-day workshop in Queenstown on 29 March 2016. You can watch the video of her presentation on the McGuinness Institute’s YouTube channel, or you can view the video below.

Dame Diane opened with her despair about seeing an increasing number of people living in poverty during her time working at the City Mission. She asserted the positive impact of New Zealand’s focus on child poverty, however stated that the narrow focus also contributed to the neglect of families in poverty.

She highlighted that policy is about people. Too often the people setting the policies have never spoken to the people most affected by their policy decisions. Diane used the example of the policy: woman on a benefit should be working, it’s much better for them. However, Diane argued that from talking with these woman, they would not say work is making them ‘free’ or advancing their lives. There is a distinction between what policy states and the experience of people.

Dame Diane discussed the need to learn what stops people from moving out of poverty by talking to clients, rather than focussing on why people stay in poverty. This approach led to the research project, Family 100, through which City Mission staff interviewed 100 families every two weeks for 12 months to try and find out from families what it’s like to live in poverty.

She then presented diagrams developed for every family in the project: a web diagram of the agencies visited in a two week period by a family living in poverty; a debt map; and a food journey. These diagrams highlight the system’s complexity, which families struggle to navigate. Diane believes debt is one of the biggest reasons for people in New Zealand not being able to move out of poverty and asserted the need for financial literacy to be taught. Dame Diane then focused on an international study that shows that the stress of being in poverty – food seeking or managing debt – contributes to a loss of cognitive function of up to 17 IQ points.

About TacklingPovertyNZ workshop tour
In December 2015, the McGuinness Institute undertook a three-day workshop in collaboration with
The New Zealand Treasury. This workshop has led to a number of outputs, one of which includes undertaking a series of one-day workshops around New Zealand in 2016. Queenstown was the first one-day workshop where we tested our approach to see if a useful output could be achieved over one day. Over the next few months we will work on smoothing the inputs and processes. The next stop on the TacklingPovertyNZ tour is tentatively booked for Rotorua on 19 August 2016. We are currently in discussion with other regional councils including the Far North, Gisborne and Manawatu. After each workshop we will prepare a discussion paper to map local issues and to explore ideas developed by participants throughout the day. In addition to being made public, each discussion paper will be given to the Chief Economist of the New Zealand Treasury.

If you are interested in attending any of the upcoming workshops and would like to learn more about theTacklingPovertyNZ initiative, sign up to receive our bimonthly newsletter here or visit our website.