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Beneficiary reduction targets, homelessness and suicide

Written By: - Date published: 7:01 am, July 26th, 2017 - 41 comments
Categories: accountability, benefits, class war, national, poverty, welfare - Tags: , , , , ,

It is great that Metiria Turei has put the spotlight on WINZ and the plight of beneficiaries in this country. Most people would be shocked to learn that each WINZ case manager is assigned a target of getting a specified number of people off the benefit every month:

Beneficiary advocate criticises WINZ staff targets

Work and Income (WINZ) staff are “more than happy” to break the law to get people off benefits so they can reach monthly targets, it has been claimed.

Beneficiary advocate Jeremy Roundill says a WINZ employee in Manurewa told him the target for each case manager was 12 clients off the benefit a month.

WINZ declined to be interviewed for this story, but said in a statement while there are targets – which differ by regions – employees have no financial incentives to reach them and are not sanctioned if they don’t.

[Auckland Action Against Poverty advocacy coordinator Alistair Russell] says most Ministry of Social Development employees go into the job wanting to help people, but soon realise what’s expected of them – even without financial incentives. “If you’re going to have a career path through Work and Income and want to be a manager or a boss, you know what you need to be saying and doing.” …

Such targets are part of the culture that has created our punitive and aggressive welfare system:

Beneficiaries ‘scared stiff’ of Work and Income

New Zealand’s social welfare system “dehumanises” people in need, with beneficiaries described as “scared stiff” of Work and Income case managers, a report says.

A Canterbury Community Law (CCL) investigation, which looked at access to justice for beneficiaries, said beneficiaries felt they were treated as “non-humans” by Work and Income – not even allowed access to toilets during lengthy waits at offices.

Fear was at a level where people were forgoing entitlements from Work and Income, instead going to non-government organisation’s food banks, or the Mayor’s Welfare Fund because of previous negative experiences, the report said. …

NZ poor suffering under punitive welfare system Massey uni study argues

A new textbook by Massey University and the University of Waikato argues that over the last 20 years the welfare system in New Zealand has sunk to a cruel, unconstructive entity that reinforces the idea of those in need as failures.

“The myth of an over-generous welfare state still features strongly in public imagination,” lead author, Professor Darrin Hodgetts, says. “The levels of scrutiny and interrogation are therefore often surprising to people who end up engaging with welfare for the first time due to redundancy, failed businesses, serious illnesses or other misfortunes.”

The study uses the term “structural violence” to describe the behaviour that welfare providers often deal out to recipients. “They often resemble violent relationships between intimate partners, involving coercion, detailed monitoring, denying resources, blaming, threats and intimidation, victimisation, and the minimising of legitimate concerns,” Hodgetts says.

The book compiles 200 years of research on urban poverty in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States and Britain to highlight developments and similarities across countries. The cause of the “punitive welfare system” according to the study is the emergence of neo-liberalism as a dominant political ideology. …

New Zealand experts warn Australia data-driven welfare ‘abuses and brutalises’

In 2012 New Zealand introduced a new welfare system based on data collection. Australia is now planning to do the same, to the horror of experts who say it harms rather than helps the most needy

New Zealand welfare experts have slammed the Australian government’s decision to copy their welfare system, saying the changes are unproven and are causing New Zealand’s most vulnerable to “check out” of any relationship with the state.

“In New Zealand our welfare system operates the same way as our prisons – it treats beneficiaries as a threat to society, to be policed and managed,” said Darrin Hodgetts, a professor of societal psychology at Massey University and an expert on poverty in New Zealand.

“If Australia want to abuse and brutalise their people, then sure, copy our system.” …

It’s all about kicking people off the benefit, so that the Nats can crow about press releases and headlines like this: Beneficiary numbers fall again: Government, and Number of people on a benefit continues to fall. Despite WINZ rhetoric, it isn’t about getting people in to jobs:

Australia can learn from the limitations of New Zealand’s welfare reforms

New Zealand’s welfare system is focused on getting people off benefits. But it fails to measure the true economic costs and benefits of doing so.

Despite the stated aims of the New Zealand policy reforms, the investment approach is not about finding people stable employment.  Rather it is about getting people off benefit over time. That is what it measures. That is what is valued. That is how government agencies’ performance is rewarded.

Leaving benefit and getting a job are positively – but far from perfectly – related. People may go off benefit into education, building up a debt they are unable to service. They may move into the black or grey economy. They may re-partner. They may move onto the streets. Or they may get a job. The investment approach is indifferent to all these vastly different potential destinations. And even if people go into jobs, the investment approach treats all jobs as equal.  …

According to the CTU: Only half of people get jobs when leaving a benefit (see also etc).  What happens to the rest? Does any Nat know or care? Perhaps the rapidly increasing numbers of homeless give a clue to the answer.

A 2015 UK study linked 590 cases of suicide to efforts to reduce the number of people claiming disability benefit. The same sort of study into our shockingly high suicide rate is needed. It is probably no coincidence.

Reducing the number on benefits is the wrong goal. It is a mean, demeaning, punitive goal. We should have a goal of creating jobs. We should have a goal of getting people healthy. We should have a goal of educating and enabling people. Then the number on benefits would take care of itself.

41 comments on “Beneficiary reduction targets, homelessness and suicide”

  1. Tautoko Mangō Mata 1

    This government HAS TO GO!

  2. Korero Pono 2

    My line of work over a number of years brings me into contact with WINZ case managers on a regular bases, some of them are decent enough to deal with, whilst others are the rudest people in a professional context that I have had the misfortune to deal with. I have noticed over the last couple of years an increase in the less accommodating type.

    From my experience, case managers who bully, misinform and deny entitlements are becoming the norm. I believe that every person that has to deal with WINZ needs an advocate/support person with them. They need to check out the policy via MAP prior to entering the office because many just accept NO when they’re told “not entitled”. I am yet to work out whether CM’s don’t know or whether they are deliberately misleading people about entitlements to things like Disability Allowance.

    Thankfully the introduction of MyMSD makes it easier for people to access a third food grant (assuming they have a payment card) without being forced into the WINZ office (but that’s only good for people with access to internet and computer). I have also noticed people are reluctant to go in without support because they believe if they go alone they’ll be declined help despite qualifying for assistance. The culture that permeates the place is vicious, the systems is broken and in my opinion only a complete overhaul will fix it – that is why I like the Green’s policy on this one.

    Ken Moffat’s (1999) paper “Surveillance and government of the welfare recipient” reads like the blue print used by the current government and accurately describes the mechanisms currently in play to destroy the humanity of and dehumanise welfare recipients.

    • garibaldi 2.1

      Thank you KP. If only we could get the moronic media dicks like Hosking, Soper et al to read this and learn.
      This information needs proper exposure but we all know that won’t happen.

  3. One Anonymous Bloke 3

    The Greens are proposing an amnesty for the wrong people.

    Instead, WINZ human rights abusers should be encouraged to come forward and be interviewed by the Police.

    • red-blooded 3.1

      Sorry but that just doesn’t make sense. Do you understand what an amnesty is? If people are being interviewed by the police because they’ve come forward, that’s not an amnesty. Plus, why would “WINZ human rights abusers” do this?

      An attempted joke?

      • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.1

        I think WINZ employees could be offered immunity from prosecution if they can provide evidence that leads to the conviction of other employees and especially senior staff.

        Why does any criminal offer a voluntary confession? To assuage a guilty conscience, presumably.

        Metiria’s suggestion that the victims be offered amnesty makes no sense unless in the context of some sort of ‘truth and reconciliation’ process.

        • weka 3.1.1.1

          As a ‘client’ of WINZ’s I’d rather not have an additional layer of nasty authoritarian culture embedded in the system where staff are pitted against staff, because the abuse will just get passed on in many ways. Better to start at the top of the chain.

          • DoublePlusGood 3.1.1.1.1

            Exactly. The next minister should instantly sack the top two tiers of management of the organisation in their entirety, and start afresh with a new organisational culture.

          • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.1.1.2

            I think whistleblowers should be encouraged, especially where human rights abuses are concerned. The way to deal with the wider issue is a UBI.

          • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.1.1.3

            I’d also point out that these prosecutions would be occurring in a reformed justice system that emphasises rehabilitation and restorative justice.

            Obviously I need to add these caveats because as soon as I mention a courtroom apparently that means “fucking people over”, despite the innumerable times I’ve argued against our shitty penal system.

        • Bill 3.1.1.2

          I think WINZ employees could be…

          So take the culture that’s fucking people over, and don’t get rid of it, but use it to “righteously” fuck people over. ffs.

          • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.1.2.1

            Nope, I’m saying that human rights abuses should be prosecuted, and whistleblowing should be encouraged.

            I’m sure you can think of a way to interpret that in a negative light too. After all, I said it.

            • Bill 3.1.1.2.1.1

              Are the abuse of human rights embedded in the Act? (I’d guess not).

              Have decisions been made in line with WINZ interpretations of the Act that some might construe as having resulted in a human rights abuse? (I’d imagine so)

              But then, if the Act itself doesn’t contain anything that would constitute an abuse of human rights and those administering the Act follow guidelines laid out for them (there’s very little discretion these days), then….?

              And if they failed to follow the guidelines laid out for them? What then? Human rights abuse by omission?

              Maybe you’d care to lay out some possible human rights abuses that you have in mind?

              edit – And you can quit with the ‘poor me’ victim bullshit while your at it.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                It’s embedded, and “I was just following orders” isn’t a defence.

                Oh, and far from being “fucked over” I’m suggesting that human rights abusers be rehabilitated. Corrections needs a change of culture too.

                Fuck knows why I’m bothering to explain myself but.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                Examples:

                Benefits are paid before income for the period is reported. This leads to inevitable overpayments which are then misrepresented as fraud, which is discriminatory, to say the least.

                As for individual examples, do you know anybody who’s been lied to by WINZ staff? Or falsely accused?

                The whole department rewards effective breaches of article 1 of the UDoHR. Do they occur? You betcha.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 3.2

      …not to mention that the systematic dishonesty and denial of benefits to citizens constitutes a massive ongoing fraud.

    • popexplosion 3.3

      Giving a pitiful amount and then banning them from capitalism is a crime against humanity. An amnesty is way wrong, like saying its OK to deny an economic right to engage in the society if admiting it was a virtue. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense,society deliberately wants to give citizens support and then cluelesly criminalizes, denies basic human liberty of economic engagement, and points snidely at welfare recipients that obviously criminal behaviour of not being up for work. Who does that! Gives someone money because they can’t work and then turns around and snidely say they are behaving like criminals who are also work shy avoidance of authority etc. Its just poor management to chase a few coins; undermine the value of the money that is given out; and then deny access to a right to engage economically (and as we now know socially. As pretty much all social is economic aka internet social networks). So we have this abusive way of looking at individuals while denying then econimc avenues yet letting tax avoiding multinationals make money off their social media activities. Anew form of slavery, were people create value they themselves are denied or heavily deincentivized from profiting from. Welfare fraud shouldbe extremely rare, there is little to gain, as its a pitiful amount, there is immediate oversight, who does that, finds the authority and takes their change?!?! Intent would suggest criminals take up drug dealing not lying to wins.

    • Bill 3.4

      From the amnesty link –

      She (Tolley)said the government had increased the benefit last year to make it easier but there was a balancing act to “make it much more worthwhile for people to be in work”.

      I think I might have got a $5 increase. I stand to be corrected – it could have been more or it could have been less. The point is, it was so fucking insignificant as to be instantly forgotten.

      “This is taxpayers’ money, it’s not a pot of gold the government has at the bottom of the garden,” she (Tolley) said.

      So which is it? Taxpayers money (I’m a tax payer). Or the government’s wee pot of gold? Obviously it’s taxpayers money, but seems to me that Tolley is more inclined to view the public purse as the government’s wee pot of gold.

      Turei has proposed WINZ operate an “amnesty” for people who have broken the law so they can approach a case manager and not be judged.

      Long overdue.

      I’d add that all live cases need to be reviewed, and where fraud was admitted to under duress, and where no actual fraud was committed (I know for sure of one case), then WINZ repay monies with interest back to those people paying fines they shouldn’t be paying.

      That case I’m alluding to above is 20 years old, and the person in question is still paying monies to WINZ although they absolutely did not commit any fraud, or claim any monies they were not entitled to. (Amazing what the threat of prosecution and possible jail time will do by way of extracting ‘a confession’ from a solo parent.)

      Also, prosecutions should be based on the difference between what was paid and what ought to have been paid and not on the sum total of the entire claim.

      Tolley says she doesn’t see a need for an amnesty.

      Of course she doesn’t.

      • weka 3.4.1

        You’re the wrong class of bene Bill. If you’d had kids you would have got a raise (otherwise, I doubt it was even $5, but the usual couple of dollars they add on each April for some obscure reason).

        I’m in 2 minds about the amnesty. LW amnesty = an actual amnesty, change system so people don’t have to lie and have enough to live on. RW amnesty = no rise in benefits, no change in culture, and let’s put it in the system that you were granted an amnesty so we can scrutinise you for the rest of your time on a benefit, plus the ones that don’t fess up can be gone after even harder, and anyone who subsequently claims what they’re not entitled to, or doesn’t share all the information even the stuff they don’t know they have to share will be pilloried beyond belief.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 3.4.1.1

          That’s why I think the Greens have this upside down. Offering an amnesty implies wrongdoing where none has occurred. Feeding children isn’t a crime. Denying benefits and abusing citizens should be.

        • Bill 3.4.1.2

          Aye well. I was thinking I only got the usual annual increase, but since the minister was quoted as implying that all benefit levels were raised…

          Anyway. I agree that the amnesty would/could only work in conjunction with the whole WINZ culture being overhauled/binned.

          But regardless of any amnesty (or maybe as a precursor) I’d like historical cases looked at and redress offered where appropriate.

          • One Anonymous Bloke 3.4.1.2.1

            I’d like historical cases looked at and redress offered where appropriate.

            It’s not hard to see that leading to precisely the same increase in departmental toxicity as whistleblowing, with the inevitable fallout on ‘clients’.

            To change the culture several things have to happen. Most importantly beneficiaries need the full protection of the BoRA. I can’t see how any departmental overhaul will address the political mileage to be gained out of hate speech against beneficiaries, though, and that forms a destructive feedback loop in that it validates staff discrimination.

            A UBI would short-circuit all of it.

  4. dv 4

    Add the run around between WINZ and Housing.

  5. weka 5

    Very good post r0b, thanks.

  6. AsleepWhileWalking 6

    Structural violence about describes it.

    From what Ive seen I also suspect they have quotas for other outcomes eg number of people on SLP shifted to JSS, number of special needs grants, amount of disability costs reduced, etc etc. In fact I believe the culture undermines the Social Securities Act.

    • popexplosion 6.1

      Its distracting us from the real problem of mismatching rewards given to the wealthiest. As Buffet pointed out, he never created the wealth he has accumulated, obviously there is a huge misappropriation of economic wealth creation to fewer and fewer, and snide attacks on the poorest for not returning value on every pitiful cent that gets there way is violence, theft with menaces.

      • AsleepWhileWalking 6.1.1

        Yep it certainly is.

        Just read a Herald headline…now they are bitching about Turei + the law society. In the meantime we have a slew of injustice in our system that at best is occassionally covered by Herald reporters, and then overwhelmed by a a disproportionate number of stories of everything coming up roses.

        • popexplosion 6.1.1.1

          She is a women with a kid… …had she been a kiwi guy getting a feed from parents once a week, doing a cash in hand job for a brother… …basically anyone has help going on a benefit should not mean those social contacts should’ve denied. Keep fit helping dig the driveway up, babysitting the neighbors kids, going to a weekly family meal… …its basically an attack on citizens that benefit recipit should mean banishment. But of course it does not as venues can earn up to 80 a week, they can be helped by family… …that’s why wins has the extra cash support. So when nr guyon trashed her as a criminal you have to ask wtf happens to the truelyisolated who will now worry about any fault that reduces income.

          Its wrong to criminalize a good purpose of giving with one hand… …people can protest on a benefit it’s not a shameful act as one nat mp declared.

      • RedLogix 6.1.2

        It’s hard not to keep circling back to the core issue here; the bitter class war being fought by the rich on the rest of humanity.

        They reserve all collective actions for themselves, ensure they’re are subject to the lightest possible scrutiny and regulation, they demand privacy for all their hidden transactions, they form cosy professional and business guilds, they conduct secret conferences and quiet meetings to progress their interests, their corporates wield a massive asymmetry of power over their precariate employees and minions, they lobby hard for protected monopolies and massive subsidies, yet when they crash the economy through their recklessness and greed there is no accountability.

        You can tell they know the immense value of these rights, because they so aggressively deny them to ordinary people.

        Modern industrial civilisation, for all it’s faults, has generated an immense wealth that could have easily eliminated absolute poverty from the face of the earth several times over. It could have eliminated all waste, all pollution, completely ended the burning of fossil carbon and restored a balance of wild places for life to thrive. Easily.

        Yet none of these things have happened because over the past 40 years a tiny number of amoral predators have been feeding on the body of humanity like a pack of wolves. Virtually ALL the new wealth created by technology in this period was siphoned off, horded, gambled or just wasted by these parasites.

        In a sense we’ve all been complicit in this deception; we’ve all hoped that if we went along with it, tugged our forelocks at the right moment, muttered all the right imprecations and pleased the right people that we too might get some crumbs from the big table. True it was the only game in town and we all had our reasons, but until we acknowledge the truth here we can never start the redemption. We can never heal this violence and shame.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 6.2

      the culture undermines the Social Securities Act.

      It undermines the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, never mind the law. That said, regardless of whether the government changes in September, I wonder if there are ways to challenge WINZ (and by extension National Party) behaviour in court along similar lines as Bartlett vs. Terranova.

      If so, the more lines of argument the better.

  7. The herding of the masses and the net effect on people ,… starting with the unemployed, those on benefits and reinforced by the corporate media.

    The aim?

    To make em all ‘ numb’….

    Comfortably Numb – pink floyd – YouTube

    • Ed 7.1

      I am shocked by the lack of moral outrage over how WINZ treat the poor and vulnerable .
      Many wealthy and middle class NZers have as you put it become comfortably numb.

  8. Michael 8

    WINZ has had these targets for years. So has ACC. Both outfits began paying bureaucrats to kick people off the government’s books long before this government took office. Some of the worst abuse of ACC claimants (NB: people with disabilities) took place during the term of the last “Labour” government. Word spread through the community; even though I warned successive “Labour” Ministers for ACC and backbench MPs about the political backlash that was building up against them, my words were ignored, totally. in 2017, Labour is reaping what it sowed. Yes, abuse of the poor and vulnerable occurs under the Nats. But “Labour” , the very political organisation formed to protect ordinary people from the excesses of capitalism, condones the same abuses, if it does not actively encourage them. That’s why I neither vote nor support Labour any more; it’s also why I encourage other people not to vote or support it.

    • popexplosion 8.1

      Party Vote Green means what? That the share of votes doesn’t go to Lab, but long term Greens will still need a constituent party ally. A party focused on local constituent matters, so voting Labour in the electorate changes Labour! Split vote Green/labour and get twice the representation like Epson voters do.

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