inability to access food

Written By: - Date published: 9:00 am, December 16th, 2014 - 33 comments
Categories: benefits, poverty - Tags:

this morning i was alerted, through a facebook discussion, about some people having difficulty accessing emergency benefits in the lead up to the holiday season.  the sort of issues being reported are:

  • an inability to walk in to WINZ offices to apply for emergency grants.  they are requiring photo IDs or community services card to enter some offices, and other offices won’t allow people in, even if they have ID.  i can imagine some people not having photo ID because getting a passport or a license costs money, but i don’t know how much of an issue this is.  i know this requirement is as a result of shooting of staff earlier in the year, but it means some people are going without food.
  • some offices will only allow people to enter if they have an appointment, to be made by ringing the 0800 number.  however, others are reporting that when they ring to make an appointment, they are refused as the work & income offices are too busy.  on person said that they could not give her an appointment until their next payday, which is little use when they need food for their family right now.
  • apparently it’s possible to ask for a food grant over the phone.  but the system will only allow phone approvals twice.  so if a person has already used up their two approvals during the year, they will need to go into a work & income office to get any further emergency assistance.  but see above: because of the christmas rush, they can’t get an appointment.
  • from what i can tell, there is no standard policy around this.  different offices are treating people very differently.

i’ve tried to get the details down as accurately as possible, based on the accounts that people have given.  this seems to be a problem that has existed for a while but is getting worse.  of course it’s likely that staff will be busier at this particular time of the year, and because it’s foreseeable, it should be possible to put on extra staff leading up to the holiday break. as well as over the holiday break.  i’m sure there are people who would be happy to earn a decent wage even if only for a couple of months.

i can understand the need to have someone who is constantly applying for food grants to be talking to a case worker developing a more sustainable long-term plan.  but surely, the first thing is to ensure that a family has food.  then a longer-term solution can be developed, although most of the solutions involve government having policies which ensure more jobs that pay well, and also ensuring that the benefit is set at a level which people can live on.

in the shorter term, people who need food should be able to access it.  it’s not acceptable that we allow people to starve.

[note: image is from the guardian]

33 comments on “inability to access food”

  1. millsy 1

    Apparently this country produces enough food to feed 40 million people.

    No person should go hungry in this country. Ever.

    • Manuka AOR 1.1

      I hope we can look at this more closely over the year ahead, – the wider question of food production, supply and distribution here in the land of plenty, and how to ensure that everyone has access to these essentials of life.

    • batweka 1.2

      “Apparently this country produces enough food to feed 40 million people.”

      Not for very much longer we don’t.

  2. Tiger Mountain 2

    WINZ offices are notorious for making up policy on the hoof contrary to the various acts. This is tantamount to psychological war on the poor. The phone system, denying access to offices, not allowing use of toilets, cut offs for missing appointments etc. are deliberate tactics to make WINZ so user hostile that people don’t go there.

    Auckland Action Against Poverty has good success rates with getting WINZ to deliver people’s entitlements but they can only run so many action days per year along with their other activities. Other advocates and NGOs do their best, constantly at pain of any funding being cut if they criticise the government.

    Millsy is correct that no one should go without food in this country. The problem is the government we have doesn’t care if they do.

  3. saveNZ 3

    I guess now that John Tully has killed two people WINZ feel they can be justified in reducing availability and using the phone service to provide help, as increasingly desperate people are clambering for food this Christmas. It is sad. Also in the ‘Attack Politics’ mode, the government does not help people who try a lot of avenues to achieve help before violence and then punishes those left afterwards by further reducing services to the desperate. I guess they just tell everyone ‘it is their fault’. Noticed how Auckland Hospital is privatizing the hospital food. Now those workers don’t have a guaranteed job anymore. Of course the National discourse is it will be their their own fault if they become unemployed. In NZ with Rogernomics people have hardened their hearts to this sort of thing while at the same time blaming those that become unemployed even when it is clearly not their fault.

  4. batweka 4

    I thought WINZ had an obligation to see clients needing emergency food grants on the day and process the payment on the same day. Not sure if the obligation is statuatory or was a nationwide policy.

    The really pathetic thing about WINZ doing all the things in this post is that we have technology to make it unnecessary. There is no reason why food grants can’t be processed by phone and email and paid into a bank account overnight. This would lighten the load so that those that need to go into the office can be see in a timely manner.

    That begs the question of why they don’t. Hard to know how much is just the generalised punitive ethos throughout the dept, how much is incompetency, and how much is coming from the Minister and National’s agenda to completely fuck the dept so they can eventually privatise.

    The WINZ call centre is a disgrace (although I’ve had some help from good people within that). More often than not there are long waiting periods to even get to speak to someone. I know this is getting more normal with call centres in general, but it’s unacceptable for a govt organisation that punishes people for not contacting them within certain timeframes. It’s also unacceptable for people that need emergency assistance.

    • Bill 4.1

      There is no reason why food grants can’t be processed by phone and email and paid into a bank account overnight.

      Well, except that money isn’t put into a bank account. It’s charged up on a WINZ debit card (process takes ‘two minutes’ once eligibility has been ascertained) that is then used like a normal bank card at an eftpos terminal. There is a limited time (three days?) during which the card can be used before its balance defaults back to zero.

      • batweka 4.1.1

        Sure, but they don’t have to do that, it’s discretionary.

        Are those cards are rechargeable or one offs? If someone doesn’t have a card already, what’s the turnaround on getting an SNG for food?

        • Bill

          They’re re-chargeable and are issued in under a minute if you don’t have one or have lost/forgotten one.

      • greywarshark 4.1.2

        @ Bill
        Is that so! I hadn’t heard about that. How awful if it only gives three days. If you can’t get transport, are sick etc. the time would run out. You say that they are rechargeable – so can that happen if it is not used within the three days. And how is that organised – does one phone and have to wait for ages, and beg? It’s enough to make you weep.

        At one time foodbanks were separate from the government. You had your benefit and then if you were in need you requested from the foodbank. Then too many people drew regularly on the foodbank and they had to institute a memory system to limit the bludgers. Then it got incorporated into WINZ and now you have to apply through them instead of having the option of a separate charitable help.

        Damn Labour for being too bloody stuck up themselves to organise their strategies for voting so they could get into government. The shits. No, we couldn’t possibly do this or that, it’s not our way, we want people to vote for the Labour brand and make us feel good, it doesn’t matter if we don’t get into government this term as a result.
        After all we still get our pay while we are in opposition. And they could have got in and with a caucus that would have acted to ameliorate this punitive, vicious treatment of needy citizens, even though they could not have turned NZ round in just a term.

        • The Al1en

          “How awful if it only gives three days.'”

          Well they are called emergency food grants for a reason. It’s arguable that if you apply for one and aren’t sent off to the sallies first, but don’t need to use it within three days, then it’s not really an emergency.
          If one is sick, then that is a different situation. Maybe the card and pin could be given to a friend or relative to do the shopping.

          And for the record, I have used food grants before, on the card system and the old style embarrassing winz a4 paper which needed to be verified by a checkout supervisor at the head of the queue.

          • greywarshark

            @ The Allen
            I am surprised that you would defend the system that wipes out an emergency grant if not picked up in 3 days. You do like being contentious don’t you.

            • The Al1en

              I’m not trying to be contentious, and it’s not really defending the system to point out an emergency typically means now and not 3 days later. When I’ve needed one, and there’s been a few times, I’ve had it all spent, to the dollar within an hour or two of getting the go ahead.
              I do accept the sickness angle may change things.

              I’m sure if the recipient qualified in the first place and the situation hadn’t changed for the better then they could re-apply, though I would imagine they’d need to provide a valid reason why their emergency wasn’t satisfied within the given time frame. I think it’s a fair question in the circumstances.

  5. Bill 5

    Photo ID has been required at my local WINZ office for a few years now, even where an appointment is being attended. The post is accurate that ID used against a checklist of appointments is now undertaken by (probably badly paid) private security outside the offices.

    That said, I’ve been able to access the office without a prior appointment to pick up dental loan/grant info/forms. Yes, I had to provide ID and an explanation.

    It crosses my mind that emergency dental and emergency food are of a similar nature. Anyway, if anyone turns up to a WINZ office, without an appointment and applying for a food grant, they must be seen that day. Some WINZ staff will attempt to set up an appointment for some future date. They’ve ‘always’ tried to pull that one and unfortunately, it’s often down to the welfare recipient to know the system and their rights before they can access what they require.

    • Tiger Mountain 5.1

      …so, in order to obtain your rights you have to know your rights…
      “Catch 22” and “The Castle” must be compulsory reading for the Ministry torturers that come up with this stuff

      • batweka 5.1.1

        In the late 90s WINZ (or whatever they were called then) were taken to the High Court and lost over this very issue – that they have an obligation to notify people of their entitlements and help them access them. They did attempt to take that seriously for a while, albeit in a typical bureacratically dysfunctional and sometimes punitive way.

  6. Brian 6

    That anyone should starve, in a nation as wealthy as ours, is nothing less than an obscenity.

  7. Kaye 7

    (Trying not to have a full-on panic attack just reading about WINZ yet alone dealing with them)
    re the ID- another alternative is the 18+ Card which can be got through Postshop. It’s a bit of a hassle (got to see a JP for a statutory declaration) but “only” cost $20 and the cost of a photo. WINZ and most Govt departments finally accept there’s a lot of us who can’t drive and can’t afford passports. Better than nothing.

    And not that I’m suggesting for one moment it’s easy, but if you already have one of the green eftpos food cards then theoretically a food grant CAN be assessed for, approved, and loaded via the call centre. You know, to make the whole process more “efficient” (like getting rid of case mangers). I’ve had it done once and it worked fine, but a friend had it done, went to the supermarket and the card failed because some idiot at the call centre hadn’t activated the card. But of course, all the above comments apply. Given most of my dealings with WINZ render me unconscious from the stress (trigger a medical condition) I prefer to go hungry, it’s safer.

    I have to go to my local office today just to get a letter confirming I’m on SLP- only been there once since the security for an appt and there was no hassle, they didn’t ask for ID, but no appt today, this is something the receptionist can do. But after reading this post I’m freaking. And they wonder why we flip out on them???

    • stargazer 7.1

      the problem is that they can only authorise emergency food grants by phone twice in a 52 week period. if you’ve used up those 2 times earlier in the year, then there is no choice but to see a staff member face-to-face.

      • batweka 7.1.1

        That sounds like via the call centre. But any reason why they can’t do this by ph or email from an office?

        • Kaye

          batweka- it used to be possible back in the days when we had case managers, although trying to make phone contact involved some serious telephone tagging. These days it’s via the call centre- there’s no way on earth we’d ever be allowed to speak directly to someone at our local office.

          • batweka

            hmm, I know beneficiaries that have direct contact with ‘case managers’, so I guess this is another thing that is varying from area to area.

            • Kaye

              Officially they’ve got rid of them, it was deemed to be too “inefficient”, although I understand in some situations it’s being bought back so I stand corrected, but for the majority direct contact with the local office still isn’t possible.

              • batweka

                Yes, I knew about the case manager thing, but it was more a comment on some offices still allow direct contact between client and office, that’s how they operate.

                (I called them ‘case managers’, because even where they exist, they’re not actuall in the business of case management).

              • just saying

                The reason it was “inefficient” is that knowing clients and their situations over time made it harder for some case managers to “make the tough decisions” and generally screw clients over.
                Easier to treat people in need like livestock fro slaughter if you don’t actually get to know them personally.
                Any client can tell you how much time is wasted by clients and staff alike in starting from scratch and telling your whole story and explaining the same details over and again to a different staff members at each visit. But how much more humiliating?

                • batweka

                  Yep. I don’t buy the efficiency line at all, esp given they (the govt of whichever pursuasion) have trialed this multiple times over the past few decades. And each time they have to revert to having case management because treating beneficiaries like stock units simply doesn’t work.

    • batweka 7.2

      “And not that I’m suggesting for one moment it’s easy, but if you already have one of the green eftpos food cards then theoretically a food grant CAN be assessed for, approved, and loaded via the call centre”

      Thanks, that’s good to know. How did they check you have no money in your account? And why you needed the grant?

      • Kaye 7.2.1

        Good point BW! The last time I did that over the phone I hadn’t intended to, I was phoning them to make an appointment to see someone about getting a grant and maybe I just struck a decent call centre worker who said she could organise it herself was quite happy to accept my reason for needing a grant. Probably helps that I usually only ask about once a year.

        I’m well aware they’re always wanting to see our bank balances, but it’s so rare anyone at WINZ has asked to see mine. I’m wondering if they’re nastier towards specific groups of beneficiaries? That or I’ve been incredibly lucky with the frontline workers I’ve dealt with.

  8. NIcci 8

    Not only the issues highlighted all ready but call center told one lady to go into her local office as walk in for food grant, call center noted on file she was coming in….she went in and was told by reception…you dont have appointment ring call center and make one…did listen to her even when she said call center told her to come in…would not check notes sent her and her 2 younger children away…The right hand doesn’t no what the left hands doing… banks need decline letter from winz before they’ll assist yet winz wont see you or dont give decline letter so again no food….Thank god for community groups who will help when they can but even those helping are often taking from there own often limited food sources….food grants are to cover those unexpected things, the things we cant plan for this is what makes it an emergency situation yet still help is often Block polices and enforcer’s interpretation of said polices.

  9. Al 9

    Welcome to Welfare National Styles – using the excuse of the abominable Ashburton murders for denying citizens their rights. But seriously now, sure those killings were totally unacceptable however citizens have rights – I would be going down to my WINZ office and peacefully protesting (i.e. not leaving). If arrested then one could at least expect to be fed while on remand – better than starving or worse, watching your loved ones starve.

    In a previous life I was a CM but since then a magic operational approach called Lean 6 Sigma has been adopted by WINZ. Lean 6 was supposed to be some sort of customer service panacea, but it looks like another ‘dead duck’ to me. The rationale behind lean 6 was for clients to be seen when they needed to and therefore no apointments would be necessary – like the Nat’s mystical surplus, it turns out to be nothing but smoke and mirrors – in fact WINZ service has deteriorated. Thanks National – for their support of NZ’s most vulnerable. Dispicably yours!

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