Yesterday one woman’s story blew the lid on our government’s treatment of beneficiaries. Sarah Wilson’s post on her ongoing struggles just to get Work and Income to do their job properly and give her the support she needs went viral, and as the comments flooded in, more stories emerged.
Stories about how humiliating it is to be sitting in a WINZ office when they ring the bell and applaud people who find jobs – even if they’re in a meeting with you at the time, and you’re in tears. Stories about literally having to record yourself delivering paperwork to prove you got it in on time, because it’s been lost, again, and your support has been stopped. Stories about puking on the floor because the next available home visit was four weeks away – so it was drag yourself in to the office, or starve.
It’s shocking, and yet unsurprising. We all know the stories of WINZ stuff-ups, the labyrinthine bureaucracy beneficiaries have to navigate to prove they’re worthy. But when the stories achieve a critical mass like this, it tells us unequivocally that there’s a bigger issue.
The best-case scenario is that Work and Income is staffed by people who are trying their darnedest to help but just have a massive blind spot when it comes to the realities of life for their ‘clients’ (and are really, really absent-minded with paperwork). The worst-case scenario is that every single one of them is on a satanic mission to make life hell for people like Sarah.
Obviously, the reality’s going to be somewhere in the middle. Some individuals are doing their best to help. Some individuals are doing their darnedest to get people off benefits, any way they can, because the numbers are how this government ‘proves’ that its reforms are ‘working’.
The big lesson to take away from this, though, is that stories like Sarah’s aren’t accidental.
There doesn’t have to be a big scary anti-beneficiary conspiracy to explain the mistreatment doled out to vulnerable people. There just has to be an attitude of ‘beneficiaries aren’t worth helping’. From that comes everything: a lack of basic processes (people have to record themselves handing over their paperwork!) a lack of basic empathy (ringing bells!) a lack of doing serious, constructive things which would actually help people like Sarah get back into work.
But if you want a conspiracy, think about this: one of the first changes this government made to social welfare in 2009 was to cut the Training Incentive Allowance. It made so little sense: why remove a benefit which helps parents upskill themselves to find better jobs to support their families?
Could it be the numbers? Could it be that when you help a solo mum through a nursing degree, you’re ‘letting’ her stay on a benefit for three more years – but if you make her life unbearable, until even an insecure, no-benefits job in a café, juggling childcare and hoping the power company’s kind, seems like a better alternative, you can get her off the benefit now?
In her post, Sarah says
I’m so tired of this. I almost want to force myself to go back to work because trying to stay on a benefit is more stressful than working fulltime with a debilitating chronic illness.
I have to ask: is that their point?
Sarah has now written a follow-up post.
Related reading: Frank Mcskasy has previously covered the epic piles of paperwork WINZ requires ‘jobseekers’ to fill out.