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Out of her depth II

Written By: - Date published: 12:45 pm, April 15th, 2009 - 29 comments
Categories: benefits, national/act government - Tags: , , ,

As if any more evidence was needed that National’s Paula Bennett is completely out of her depth as Minister of Social Development, it appears Work and Income is turning away the hungry while Paula can’t even get her lines straight:

Despite a high court ruling in 2002 instructing WINZ to tell beneficiaries what their entitlements are (Ruka v WINZ), they’ve decided to return to the bad old days of the 1990s when they would tell hungry Kiwis to bugger off and find a food bank to avoid paying them out their lawful entitlements and generally do whatever it took to stop people getting the help they were legally entitled to. Including creating and running on policy that was in breach of the law.

The reason Paula Bennett doesn’t appear to have a clue is because she was never meant to. She’s just that nice centrist-looking lady who smiles on the TV while National’s out the back ripping the guts out of our welfare system.

This is an area Labour failed miserably in during their last time in government. Let’s hope they can get their act together now.

Update: Surprise, surprise, it appears National’s election promise to lift the allowable income for beneficiaries won’t be funded in this year’s Budget and there’s no commitment as to when it will be.

29 comments on “Out of her depth II”

  1. Brett Dale 1

    Just out of interest, out of all the kiwis who are on the benefit have gone to Winz, how many were told to ‘BUGGER OFF”, do you have a number?????? Do you have names of these people, or the names of the winz officers?

    Or are you lying again?

    • John 1.1

      Agreed. It appears that this was simply a case of a WINZ staffer not fully understanding the avenues that these people could take. I assume that this problem has been identified, and that no more stories like this will arise. Simple mistake, which is now being used to score political points.

  2. Bill 2

    To be fair Tane, beneficiaries seeking food grants were being pawned off to food banks under the last government too.

    There is also an annual cash limit on food grants. ( Says WINZ) What they don’t tell you, and what staff seem to be unaware of is that the limit doesn’t apply if the need is desperate enough. Lack of food is desperate. No limit applies. Got to argue the case though, and that’s something many on the benefit are not good at doing.

    edit. Worth adding that the financial situation of beneficiaries got much, much worse when Labour abolished Special Ben and replaced it with TAS. TAS is wholly inadequate and results in more applications for food grants due to financial shortcomings.

    • George Darroch 2.1

      It’s fuckin disgusting that any person has to beg to survive.

      Labour members should be ashamed that for 9 years Labour deliberately chose not to do anything about it – and even fought (and lost) in the courts to keep the Richardson system as unadulterated as it was in 1991.

      I know someone on the unemployment benefit, getting $148 per week, and they have to eat out of skip bins to survive.

      Decent society? Labour didn’t care, still doesn’t care, and I won’t believe they care til they actually legislate. Phil Goff can mouth all the platitudes in the world, but it won’t make a difference until they’re actually determined to do something.

  3. vinsin 3

    Yes it’s nothing new that Winz prides itself on fobbing off its clients to keep their budgets down. I believe the cash limit on a food grant is $200 per year for anyone without children and around $400 for those with children; however getting a food grant has become harder and harder to get as normally the caseworker will look for any way to reject your application – it’s kind of their job.

  4. BeShakey 4

    “…it’s kind of their job”

    Only if it’d their job to break the law. As the post noted, the high court has ruled that WINZ should facilitate access to peoples entitlements. Labour directed WINZ to comply with the court ruling, and as far as I’m aware they did an OK job of this (noting there will always be isolated failings). Labours problem was that they then changed the entitlements, but that doesn’t let the Nats off the hook for screwing over beneficiaries the way Labour did and their own way.

    Pity the house is in recess, it would have been interesting to see King take Bennett on over this one.

    • vinsin 4.1

      It may be Winz’s job to “facilitate access to peoples entitlements” but it’s the case worker’s job to toe the line with whatever management says. If management says to keep costs down by giving clients the run around then that’s what they do.

      • George Darroch 4.1.1

        They do this, because Labour didn’t care, and the 1990s culture of denial remained entrenched.

  5. big bruv 5

    Great news, I want WINZ fobbing off dole bludgers, if they cannot budget then that is their own tough luck.

  6. Ag 6

    I went to school with her.

    Thick as two short planks, she is.

  7. Rex Widerstrom 7

    Meh, DSW (as was then) were doing this when I was a social worker back in the early 80s and based on what I’ve heard from every beneficiary I’ve known since they’ve kept it up under every government. Sure some governments (like National with Shipley as Welfare Minister) cheered them on while others (like the Labour government which followed them) made more disapproving noises.

    But DSW/WINZ staff know that no matter who’s in power the prevailing sentiment is that these people are a bunch of leeches and if it was palatable electorally they’d be cut adrift. But since it’s not, they’re to be given barely subsistence.

    Sure individual case officers have broken the mould but then (as mine was) they’re “transferred to other duties” faster than you can say “we’re not here to help”.

    And of course there are (as big bruv so aptly demonstrates above) no deserving cases. None that are trying their damnedest to get off the benefit and thus deserve a bit of a nudge forward while the able-bodied smelly layabout in the corner needs a kick in the pants. No, they’re all the same, and thus deserving of an equal helping of contempt and frustration when they crawl in to ask for something.

    But it’s the second part of the post that really captured my attention… it’s going to cost $17 million? Assuming a dollar-for-dollar abatement regime over $80 that means 17 million divided by $20 divided by (as an arbitrary figure) 40 weeks gives a figure of just over 20,000 beneficiaries affected. In reality of course there’ll be people going onto and coming off work and those on variable incomes being abated some months and not others.

    [It would have been helpful if the Herald journo had stuck up their hand and asked “How many people does this affect?” but, well…]

    So I wonder if anyone has modelled the likely numbers of people who’d find work if the regime were altered. Using the figures above and assuming an average total burden per beneficiary (benefit, accommodation supplement etc) of $400 then if they all got jobs that’s an $8.5 million saving in WINZ’s budget alone, not taking into account addition al taxes etc. And not to mention the secondary savings in better health etc.

    Surely they’re not just making decisions based on gross cost? Or does the $17 million take these factors into account?

    Okay I’ve now come to realise the Herald’s story tells us nothing of any use. As you were.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      Okay I’ve now come to realise the Herald’s story tells us nothing of any use.

      You’re surprised by this?

  8. I would have thought the government would be keen as to get people to work as much as possible. Obviously you don’t want to still be dishing out benefits to people with full-time jobs, but one would have thought that the government ends up better off (with more tax paid) the more someone works.

    Same reason why I always thought it was stupid that students could only earn $130 a week without it affecting their student allowance.

  9. BeShakey 9

    “It may be Winz’s job to “facilitate access to peoples entitlements’ but it’s the case worker’s job to toe the line with whatever management says. If management says to keep costs down by giving clients the run around then that’s what they do.”

    So you support case workers breaking the law if someone in management tells them to? No problems with a case working knowingly giving their bosses mate a benefit they aren’t entitled to, on the bosses orders? Or is it only when beneficiaries are being deprived of their entitlements that ‘only following orders’ is acceptable.

    • vinsin 9.1

      “So you support case workers breaking the law if someone in management tells them to? No problems with a case working knowingly giving their bosses mate a benefit they aren’t entitled to, on the bosses orders? Or is it only when beneficiaries are being deprived of their entitlements that ‘only following orders’ is acceptable.”

      No, all i was saying was that it’s tough to be on a benefit and get all the money or assistance that you’re entitled to, this is because case workers have superiors they’re accountable to. Should everyone get everything they’re are entitled to? Yes. Does it happen? No. Why don’t they? Because of the reasons I’ve mentioned before.

      To be honest I think Winz has been fucked for many years and all that really happens is a new government repackages and re-brands things with the overall system of Winz still being a sick, psychotic, almost schizophrenic beast that no one really wants to tame.

  10. Tigger 10

    Wow, I’m out of touch – when did CAB start becoming a foodbank?

  11. marco 11

    It is Work and Income policy to inform clients of all their entitlements. The phrase they use is “Full and Correct Entitlement”.
    This is drummed into every case manager during training. Case Managers should also assess Temporary Additional Support at each Emergency Grant (Special Needs Grant and Advance) application.
    The limit for food for a single person is $200 per six months (the allowance increased just before the election). To qualify for an emergency grant the client has to prove that it is just that….an emergency.
    If a client goes over their allowance before the end of the six month period then they are refferred to a food bank, unless the Service Centre Manager approves an over allowance (which comes out of their next six month allotment).
    If a client is unhappy with the decision they can apply in writing for a Review of Decision. Every Review of Decision form recieved must be investigated and responeded to via the regional office. This means if you genuinely believe that you have been hard done by the case manager and the service centre manager must explain to regional office how they reached their decision.

    It is not and hopefully never will be Work and Income policy to not explain entitlements and keep budgets down. To say otherwise is a lie.

    • Felix 11.1

      Not official policy of course but I’ve talked to former staff who say they were directed to do exactly that, regularly.

      • Fraggle 11.1.1

        Not sure why the staff would be directed not to pay an emergency Special Needs Grant in recent times, it is not a limited bucket of money it comes from. The Nat Govt of the 90s set the bar very high on food SNG.

        Marco is bang on in explaining the system.

        There is quite a bit of verification that is required to access a SNG to establish if a situation is an emergency. If an emergency situation can not be established then a manager has discretion to approve. A case worker is administering legislation and they can not make decisions or approve assistance that is outside the scope of the Social Security Act.

        • Felix

          The staff I former staff I referred to were working there in the late 90s.

        • vinsin

          Yes this is one of the reasons why people don’t get their full entitlement. The interpretation of “emergency” and “discretion.” The fact is that a case worker can mistake an emergency situation as something that was entirely foreseeable, ie large phone bills, power bills, etc.

          If the client was left broke because of paying for bills that they considered to be essential and were asking for a SNG, a case worker could (and I have actually experienced this myself as a student) use their discretion to decline the request because a) telecommunications are a “luxury” and not considered essential costs and, b) the client did not make enough effort to budget for a large bill. It doesn’t matter that the client may be entitled to a grant, and in their mind were in an emergency situation, what matters is the interpretation of emergency and the discretionary attitude of the case worker.

          Of course, one can appeal any ruling; however, most appeals take at least two weeks to be dealt with – they must be dealt with by six weeks – and so by the time one gets to have their say, the emergency situation is no longer an emergency, and the appeal is moot.

        • Bill

          “Marco is bang on in explaining the system.”

          Not quite. If you read my previous comment in relation to the supposed limit on SNG for food you’ll see that Macro missed a crucial detail in his explanation. By Macro’s explanation, WINZ can be justified in sending a client to a food bank. But the very fact that they would consider such a move is proof that the situation is serious and immediate….which means that a SNG for food should be issued.

          It’s that simple.

          As for appeals and reviews, (Macro’s comment below) it’s true that such processes take a long time in most instances. But a review of a declined SNG for food must be undertaken on the same day as the application was made.

          Here’s the thing. You have to know these things and (crucially) be reasonably articulate in arguing the point. Why? Because there is a pervasive culture of obstructionism in an institution designed as a safety net.

          An accepted but unacceptable state of affairs?

          BTW. All this talk of ‘breaking the law’….there is the legislation and then there is the policy that WINZ operates from which is an interpretation of the legislation. Obviously, different interpretations are possible. Policy can be and has been wrong.

      • marco 11.1.2

        If they were directed to do that then it would be perfectly within their rights to contact their PSA rep and make a complaint. If they were not PSA members then there are other channels to take complaints within the public service. No public servant should be directed by a superior to essentially break the law.

        • Fraggle

          “No public servant should be directed by a superior to essentially break the law.”

          Totally agree. However, very few civil servants actually read the Act they operate under and rely on superiors directing them.

          As an aside the legislation on welfare should have been rewritten ages ago. It is a total mess and quite confusing for case workers and WINZ clients.

  12. Maynard J 12

    I suspect that in some cases, people don’t qualify under whatever constitutes an ’emergency’ – so they get sent to food banks. Bennett could have said that, if she wanted something smart to say. “people fall through the cracks” “Well they don’t fall through the cracks” poor.

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