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Research shows that families, females, Māori and Pacific people hardest hit by lockdowns

October 13, 2021

We know that many New Zealanders have been ‘doing it tough’ during the COVID-19 pandemic. Extended lockdowns, rising food costs and increasing unemployment have hit our most financially vulnerable citizens hardest of all – particularly families, females, Māori and Pacific people.

A recent report undertaken by Christians Against Poverty (CAP) shows that lockdown has deepened social and economic inequalities, and that ‘the impact on the wellbeing of families in financial hardship and unmanageable debt is dire’.

What’s more, research during the last lockdown revealed that at least one in eight households lost employment, with 39% losing part of their income.2 This rate of job loss and hardship is increasing as Auckland enters its eighth week of lockdown.

Unfortunately, when times get tough, many vulnerable Kiwis are desperate and don’t know where else to turn, so they borrow money from high interest, predatory lenders (loan sharks) and ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes. These loans increase their poverty cycle, leading to unmanageable debt and further financial stress.

Natalie Vincent, CEO of Ngā Tāngata Microfinance (NTM), which provides interest and fee-free loans to Kiwis on low incomes, agrees. “Many New Zealanders simply do not make enough money to cover the bare living essentials,” she says. “They are forced to turn to high-interest loans and then they fall into a ‘debt trap’, a cycle of increasing reliance on high-cost credit options from cash lenders. If they have a financial emergency, like the loss of a job, they borrow more money, and the spiralling cycle of debt becomes overwhelming.”

A financial safety net for those who are struggling

“For the financially vulnerable, lockdown accentuates hardship and makes a tough situation even worse,” says Vincent. “Many of Ngā Tāngata Microfinance’s loan recipients ended up in financial hardship because they felt they didn’t have any other options. Now, more than ever, we want to make people aware that there are safer lending options available – like our fairer, safer, interest-free loans.”

Interest-free loans are just one facet of Ngā Tāngata Microfinance’s solution. Loan applicants also work with a financial mentor to strengthen their financial skills and wellbeing. This wrap-around approach assists financially vulnerable New Zealanders to develop financial stability, create savings, improve self-efficacy and above all, avoid high-interest predatory lenders.

“A loan from Ngā Tāngata Microfinance can serve as one part of the solution for people to lift themselves out of poverty, playing an essential role in the broader fight for social justice outcomes in New Zealand,” explains Vincent.

Families, females, Māori and Pacific people the hardest hit

A recent NTM report by ImpactLab shows that women have been particularly hard hit in the past year, with female borrowers comprising 72% of those accessing NTM’s debt relief loans and 67% of people accessing the asset building loans.3 Māori and Pacific people have also been heavily impacted and comprise 55% of borrowers accessing debt relief loans and 56% of those accessing asset building loans (compared with 32% and 35% of New Zealand Europeans respectively).4

The report also shows that families and older people are adversely impacted by the pandemic. Those aged 31-60 comprised 65% of those accessing NTM’s debt relief loans, and 58% of those accessing NTM’s asset building loans. People in the over 61 age bracket comprised almost 19% of all NTM borrowers.5

The ImpactLab report indicated that NTM punches well above its weight when it comes to social return on investment, generating a return of $3.60 for every dollar spent6.

Demand for interest-free loans greater than resources

Ngā Tāngata Microfinance is backed by Kiwibank, who provide the capital for their interest-free loans and have just increased the capital available to NTM to meet the burgeoning need for small, fee-free, interest-free loans.

“The increased demand due to lockdown has put pressure on our small team and resources delivering our service,” says Vincent. “We would greatly welcome donations and corporate sponsorship from other individuals and organisations who share our vision of a fairer New Zealand for our most vulnerable citizens.”

“Investing as a country to enable people to be more financially literate is critical to longer term outcomes,” she says. “When we lift New Zealanders out of poverty, we also improve mental health, reduce family violence, risky behaviour, addictions and child placement, and decrease reliance on emergency benefits.”

Vincent says, “In these toughest of times, people need to know that safe, fair credit options and financial mentoring support are available to help them move out of financial hardship and into financial well-being.” 

About Ngā Tāngata Microfinance

Ngā Tāngata Microfinance (NTM) is a small, non-profit organisation that aims to help break the cycle of financial stress by providing clients with access to safe, fair and affordable interest-free loans, as well as financial mentoring.

With a mission of strengthening New Zealanders’ financial independence by providing safe, fair and affordable finance options, NTM offers two types of interest-free loans:

  • GetControl debt relief loans of up to $3,000 to fully cover one or more high-interest loans
  • GetAhead asset building loans of up to $2,000 to help build a family’s assets and improve their wellbeing.

Our vision is for a just and equitable society, with the economic and social inclusion of all those living in Aotearoa New Zealand, including those who are most financially vulnerable. Our goal is to break the cycle of financial stress, to empower New Zealanders to become more financially capable, and to help them become better off in the long term.

To read more stories about the people we’ve helped, see:

For more information, please contact Natalie Vincent, CEO at

“Me mahi tahi tatou mo te oranga o te katoa.”
“We must work together for the wellbeing of all.”

1. Lockdown and Hardship: the Impact on Vulnerable Families in Aotearoa, Christians Against Poverty, 2021.
2. Choi, K., Giridharan, N., Cartmell, A., Lum, D., Signal, L., Puloka, V., … & Kvalsvig, A. (2021). Life during lockdown: a qualitative study of low-income New Zealander; experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. The New Zealand MedicalJournal (Online), 134(1538), 52-6.
3,4,5,6. ImpactLab GoodMeasure Report – Ngā Tāngata Microfinance, September 2021.


Tanya’s story: “it was a massive weight off my shoulders.”

Through no fault of her own, 50-year old Tanya* was in a really tough spot financially after her partner left her with an outstanding loan that wasn’t hers. As the single mother of three children, she felt overwhelmed. “I’m normally really good at budgeting, but I just couldn’t get on top of the debt – especially with all the interest,” she explains.

Tanya turned to a local Financial Mentor for ongoing advice, who suggested applying to Ngā Tāngata Microfinance for a GetControl Debt Relief Loan. ”It was really stressful, but as soon as I heard I’d been accepted by Ngā Tāngata for a loan, it took all the pressure off – it was awesome,” she says.

Tanya elected to pay $25 a week and has since paid off the loan. “It was manageable with just a small amount a week. And not having all that interest adding up was amazing. I absolutely recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in a tough situation – it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m in a better place now – it was a massive weight off my shoulders!”

* Name changed to protect identity

Jude’s story: “I was drowning in interest payments.”

Jude found herself in financial hardship after a series of life events. Her husband’s business had folded and they had spent many years paying back creditors. Soon after, her husband was diagnosed with cancer. “While I was caring for him in his final months, I paid less attention to what I was spending and things started getting out of control,” says Jude.

After her husband passed away, she realised the extent of their debt, which suddenly put her in severe financial hardship. “When you’re on a fixed income, even $10 a week is a lot. I was drowning in interest repayments and couldn’t see any way ahead.”

“I went to see the local Financial Mentor, who was amazing. She suggested applying for a GetControl Debt Relief loan from Ngā Tāngata Microfinance,” says Jude. “Even though it has taken me two and a half years to pay it off, not paying any interest or fees has made such a huge difference. To see the balance go down rather than stay the same because you’re paying such high interest is incredible.”

“I’ve learnt so much and I’m determined now to start saving. The loan from Ngā Tāngata has saved my life. I can’t express how to thank them enough.”