Radio New Zealand has reported this morning that since 2008 the number of power disconnections has soared at the same time that hardship grants by WINZ for electricity and gas are falling. Work & Income made nearly 7,000 fewer hardship grants last year than in 2011, but disconnections rose more than 10,000.
The Government sent Simon Bridges to be interviewed. This is a strange decision as you would think that the Minister in charge of WINZ who issue the hardship grants should have been interviewed instead. The issue is clearly related to poverty and WINZ’s refusal to deal properly with clear cases of hardship.
It was reported that in 2008 there were 10,000 power disconnections although this figure had dropped after the death of Folole Mulianga and steps then taken to ensure that medically vulnerable people did not have their power cut.
Bridges told Radio New Zealand that he wanted fewer disconnections to occur. The way he discussed the matter it seems that an inability to pay is somehow the power companies fault. And good luck with that once they are all privatised and have obligations to private shareholders.
He said he had written to the power companies outlining his expectation that disconnections should come down and has threatened to use regulatory powers against them. He has told his Ministry officials to work with WINZ officials to “work on some of the processes they have to just ensure that if there is any room for improvement there that we are improving and we are assisting beneficiaries …”
He thought that a solution would involve better communication to WINZ clients of their rights. You get that, better communication will pay outstanding bills and there is no problem with hardship grant policies.
Brent Edwards noted that disconnections had increased from 10,000 in 2008 to four times that level today.
Instead of blaming the Electricity Companies Bridges Bennett and Co ought to have a look at the increasing incidence of poverty. Maybe they should start by developing an official measurement of poverty.