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]