Right on cue, just as mid-winter is knocking at our door, a chilly, unsettling blast has gripped New Zealand. It would appear that an icy hand has also got a grip on our wallets and purses.
Also, in time for the start of the end-of-term school holidays at the weekend, temperatures plummeted, roads closed, and snow arrived in many places.
As of yesterday morning, lanes on Auckland Harbour Bridge were likely to close as a strong wind warning was in place for much of the country.
The wintry blast blanketed parts of Southland and Otago in snow. The Desert Road was closed on Sunday night due to ice.
As the first significant winter storm hits, temperatures will hover around zero in many places, including parts of Wairarapa. With a strong southwest airflow over New Zealand, the gales at the coast, together with rain, snow and showers, are forecast to linger most of this week.
In something of a winter double-whammy, a raft of price hikes kicked in at the weekend. Transport costs increased for most, with motorists and other road users feeling the effects of the fuel tax discount ending. There had been some hopes that the petrol companies would ease us back into higher prices. No such luck.
With fuel costs rising, many other goods and services dependent on road transport will be negatively affected. That means food, medicine, building supplies and essential services delivered by road will be more expensive.
Among all of this, there was some relief. Most children under the age of 13 will get public transport for free. Those between 13 and 25 can travel on half-price fares.The removal of the $5 prescription co-payment fee will help many.
One can’t help but wonder when the endless cost of living increases end. How does it matter to someone with a young family that the kids can travel free if Mum and Dad can’t afford to put enough food on the table?
Even worse, in a primarily rural area such as Wairarapa, with almost no public transport, how do families benefit? They must take the kids to school in their more-expensive to-run cars, after struggling to keep the house warm and dry in these colder months. Don’t be surprised if you see plenty of students braving freezing temperatures on the way to school as their parents try and stick to a transport budget.
It will matter little to them that they no longer have to pay the $5 for the medicine they need for their sick child when a dry and properly heated home could have prevented them from getting ill in the first place.
This winter, as temperatures plunge, we can probably expect to see more people struggling than we have ever seen before. Some will resort to desperate, even criminal, measures to get through.
Questions must be asked about how we, a first-world country, seem structurally unable to address increasing poverty in a way that brings about real change. What is it about the policies and practices of successive governments that fail to bring about that fundamental change?