Last night, I spoke at the Occupy gathering in the Octagon. I thanked those involved for bringing the Occupy discussion to Dunedin.
I’ve blogged about Occupy before. It is drawing attention to the growing gap between rich and poor.
Many of those involved in Occupy Dunedin come and go. They’ve got jobs to hold down during the day (or shift work at night) and they show up in the Octagon as time allows. While the group covers a broad cross-section of society, they share a common concern that things are not as they should be.
And things are not as they should be. Under the National Government, costs have risen faster than wages. Increasing numbers of families in Dunedin are struggling to make ends meet.
Things are getting worse. I’ve knocked on doors during the year and heard stories of people working long hours but not able to afford to take a sick child to the doctor. Sometimes people are caught out by one power bill, ending up in a debt cycle; many families can’t afford to buy the fresh fruit and vegetables they once could. Last week, Presbyterian Support published it’s Voices of Poverty report. It too shows the growing need in our community.
In the year to June 2011, Presbyterian Support Otago’s Family Works service provided budgeting, income-related advice and tangible support to 2921 families and individuals. Total interventions for emergency assistance, budgeting, community welfare and counselling was 8253, compared with 5860 in 2009-10 and 5150 in 2008-09. These figures represent a 60% increase in demand over three years.
The full report contains the personal stories of families in Otago living with poverty. It is a sobering read.
There is no doubt that many are struggling to put food on the table. But even middle income earners are feeling the squeeze – and perhaps this is why the Occupy movement resonates more widely. Certainly, Labour’s plan to address cost of living issues is receiving a warm response.
The occupiers were yesterday served trespass notices, effective from 8pm. It is not clear what the next few days will bring for them. Whatever it brings, I am grateful that they have provoked a debate about the gap between rich and poor. Their campsite in the Octagon has given many struggling Dunedin residents occasion to share their growing concerns.