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Shameful tactics on beneficiaries

Written By: - Date published: 7:40 am, April 8th, 2016 - 43 comments
Categories: benefits, class war, poverty, welfare - Tags: , , , ,

Why does it take a volunteer organisation like Auckland Action Against Poverty to help people get the benefits that they are entitled to? Yesterday:

Beneficiaries line up for help

A crew of more than 100 volunteers are helping people access the benefits they’re entitled to at Mangere Work and Income this week, with large queues forming outside the premises from 6.30am. … Spokeswoman Sue Bradford said even the group’s most seasoned advocates were surprised at the number of people waiting when they arrived to start work on Tuesday.

“This week our crew of over a hundred volunteers are doing everything possible to help people access the assistance to which they’re entitled,” Ms Bradford said.

“Ideally people should be receiving their full entitlements from Work and Income as a matter of course. “Instead we are seeing hundreds of people in desperate need, often with no food in the house, and not even the most basic of household equipment like beds, a washing machine or a fridge.”

She said many people were not getting the full amount of assistance they were entitled to, in situations where $30 to $50 a week more would make a huge difference. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

By lunchtime on Tuesday the group had to turn people away, as so many were already waiting.

It is shameful that people are not getting the support they need. Bravo and thanks to the volunteers for doing a job that should not be necessary.


Sue Bradford (along with CEO of the Mangere Budgeting Service Darryl Evans, Child Poverty Action Group Economy Spokesperson Susan St John) were interviewed by Waatea 5th Estate on this – see the video here (ht Maui).

On poverty see also the talk “Hearing The Voices Of Our children” by National Advocacy Manager at UNICEF NZ, Deborah Russel, in Wellington. Video here.


Update:

43 comments on “Shameful tactics on beneficiaries”

  1. Incognito 1

    Make it as hard as possible, and even harder. That would be Paula Bennett, wouldn’t it? While John Key has a different edict for an ever-so-slightly different group of people: make it as easy as possible, and then even easier.

    It is obvious that Key, Bennett, and National have only the best interests of all New Zealanders at heart.

  2. Jono 2

    Hey some good coverage on this watch Bomber Bradbury over on the Daily Blog. He did three shows on this on the ‘Fifth Estate’ was very good.I don’t have a link. But if you go to the Daily Blog you can find it easy.

  3. One Anonymous Bloke 3

    The reason human rights crims can get away with these abuses is they never get prosecuted for them. All history shows that the Right has to be forced to behave ethically.

  4. Astata G 4

    The work of volunteers is commendable but they should be also fighting to make the system more accessible – easier forms, more transparent information at the WINZ website. I looked at the WINZ website trying to work out how much I would be entitled to in a hypothetical situation and it was impossible. The website ‘benefits A-Z’ lists a few dozen benefits. Main benefits have more information about them but it is distributed over several sub-sites in short bits, confusing to navigate. Add-on benefits do not have detailed information about entitlements, just very basic information and ‘contact us for more’. This is ridiculous, everyone should be able to just go to the website and work out their entitlements there, and it would save WINZ workers’ time too.

    • weka 4.1

      I agree all that is very hard to access and one of the things that WINZ should be sorting out. Not holding my breath 😉

      The pages you want to get to are the MAP ones (Manuals and Proceedures). These are the rules and guidelines that WINZ staff themselves have to work with. The easiest way to find them for any benefit is to look at the bottom of every page you open.

      eg, here’s the main Accommodation Supplement page,

      http://www.workandincome.govt.nz/individuals/a-z-benefits/accommodation-supplement.html

      Near the bottom of that page is a link Manuals and Proceedures,

      http://www.workandincome.govt.nz/map/income-support/extra-help/accommodation-supplement/introduction.html

      You are now in the part of the site that has all the qualifications and should have the formulas they use to calculate payments. It’s still a lot of links and back and forth, but it’s better than the front end of the site which says little and directs people to phone WINZ for an appt.

    • adam 4.2

      A little off the mark Astata G.

      It’s hard to occupy a web page, crash it maybe – not occupy it. The plan was to show the flaws in the system, and help who we could.

      As for fixing the web page, I hope you can take the led on that Astata G as you seem to see the faults there.

      My focus was not the web page because I was personally aware, some people have English as second language. Others are not computer literate, and others had disabilities which meant that using a web page was not possible. All of which I was able to advocate for, over the impact.

      Also the need is dire, as Sue said, people were camping out. My experience was getting beds for people and getting them off the floor, was the number one need.

      Also another personal observation, was the amount of extra suffering that disabled in our community had to endure, because of the systems put in place by this national government.

      NOTE!!! I’m only talking for myself and my experience. I’m not talking for, nor on behalf of any of the other volunteers. Nor do I speak for the Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) in any way. If you want any comments from AAAP then you need to ask them directly. I am a private individual who volunteered to help with the impact. My comments are as a private individual who volunteered to help with the impact.

      • Astata G 4.2.1

        adam,

        I did not say that you should be doing something about the webpage instead of helping people the way you do. I just think doing both would make sense. You said yourself that there were more people than you could help. You can’t help everybody, and helping people deal with the system without challenging the system can legitimise the system. I know you are fighting for a increase in benefits but in the current political climate this is unlikely. Accessible info on the website (in several languages, like some other govt pages do) is a very reasonable request that would, I imagine, get public support and put WINZ in a difficult situation. Getting help with using a computer form is much easier (go to any CAB, library) than getting help with the esoteric knowledge about benefit entitlements.

        • adam 4.2.1.1

          Astata G

          We were challenging the system, and that was one of the aims. The system is broken, myself, and I’m sure others who volunteered, plus AAAP will be saying more about the impact in the coming days and weeks.

          Please take my challenge up – and take the lead on changing the income support web page. I was not criticising you for what you said, I agree with what you wrote and how you have responded. I just don’t have the time, and have many other projects on the go.

          I’d love for it to change, and I think you have the skill set, plus the foresight to see it changed for the better.

          So take the bull by the horns, you have my support.

          Kia Kaha

  5. Sabine 5

    Unless it is clear what type of benefit and how much is available for people in need, the WINZ drones can lord over the poor masses and hand out what they deem any person is deserving of it.

    Again, in Germany or France for that matter, one can go online and actually calculate what they can get at a minimum.
    Newly unemployed in Germany? Once your application is lodged and it is approved (i.e. one has to have worked for a certain time) one can expect 60% of their last net pay.
    No fear of fronting up to some worker, who may have poured coffee over her new frock, or got stuck in traffic for several hours or did not get laid last night, who may just simply be of foul humor and who thinks the applicant is not submissive, obedient and downtrodden enough to deserve a generous hand out.
    The fact that WINZ employees can literally decide what one receives in itself should be abolished. Clear guidelines as to what is available, how much is available in what circumstances should be made public on the WINZ webpage.
    While the benefits in many cases may still not be enough in certain times, it would relieve stress on both the applicant and the case worker.

    And for me this is why a UBI is attractive. It takes away the shroud of secrecy and the power individual Winz drones have over people. No bullying, here is your UBI. Here are the forms for top ups if needed.

  6. maui 6

    Maybe its best to couch this in economic terms, because the persecutory right doesn’t seem to understand much else. This is costing us greatly, the stress put on this section of our society, and the associated health problems, depression, obesity, dietary probs, etc. The crime, vandalism, assault, theft, etc that emanates out from these communites. WTF are we doing? WTF have we created here?

    Meanwhile the middle classes don’t seem to understand, here they are busily forming groups to paint over any graffiti that sprouts up. This somehow fixes everything. Laughable.

  7. weka 7

    “Why does it take a volunteer organisation like Auckland Action Against Poverty to help people get the benefits that they are entitled to?”

    1. because starting in the 1980s, successive governments have taken increasingly punitive approaches to Social Security. They’ve run the economy with a permanent unemployment rate, they’ve undercut workers rights, kept wages low and transformed employment making it much less secure and creating both an underclass and a precariat class. There aren’t enough jobs to go around and in the minds of the political class, in order to still have people willing to work under those conditions they have to be forced. Hence the punitive approach.

    2. concurrent with and consequent to that, NZ as a society has increasingly villified people on benefits as lazy, bludgers, people ripping off the system etc. People who create policy and people who staff WINZ are part of that society and there has been an increase within the departments of these attitudes.

    3. multiple piecemeal semi-restructuring within WINZ that has been designed to reduce costs and to allow more coersion of beneficiaries rather than creating effiency in teh system alongside supporting people in need, has created a system that is hugely complex, that many people don’t understand (including WINZ workers), and that is probably impossible to fix.

    4. WINZ is understaffed.

    5. there is a long history of Work and Income and its predecessors not informing clients of their entitlements. So people in need could get entitlements if they knew what to ask for, but if they didn’t WINZ staff often wouldn’t tell them. Back in the 1990s WINZ (or whatever it was called then) got taken to the High Court over this and lost. Since then it has had an onus to provide the information up front, but that has been applied very unevenly. People who know how to navigate the system and have the capacity to self-advocate do far better than those that don’t.

    6. benefit cuts (1990 and then the later removal of the hardship grant Special Benefit) mean that there really isn’t enough money to meet people’s needs, so people are having to keep reingaging with the dysfunctional system. The more this happens the more the government reacts by trying to tinker with the broken system and the worse it gets.

    7. All of the above applies to NZ governments irrespective of which party is in power.

    8. Since 2008, National have taken all this to a whole new level, far worse than anything that was going on before. They are actively changing the culture (“welfare is an addiction”) and backing that up with legislation that is not only punitive but also is creating a class of people who are treated separately from other NZ citizens.

    9. asking for help from WINZ is often a humiliating experience. It’s usually frustrating, often extremely so. It’s not unusual for people to be reduced to tears, have panic attacks and anxiety, and occasionally resort to violence (there’s some research to be done there on domestic violence following engagement with WINZ). As a consequence many people avoid WINZ until they are desparate, often using up any existing cash or assets so that by the time they ask for help they are in crisis. That makes their situation more complex, and because of all the things above, it gets harder to resolve.

    10. The humiliation from WINZ and the wider society makes it much harder for people to ask for help that they are entitled to.

    11. under the neoliberal and then more recent proto-fascist revolutions, it’s been increasingly hard for benefit advocacy groups to survive. They do very important work and need far more support than they are getting. Yes we need government to change and make changes, but tbh I don’t see Labour or probably even the GP making this a priority for a while. In the meantime beneficiares desparately need independent advocacy services funded well enough to be doing what AAAP are doing. We also need grass roots activism and political lobbying.

    Just in case you wanted the question answered 😉 That’s not a comprehensive list.

    • r0b 7.1

      Maybe not a complete list, but it is both comprehensive and compelling.

    • aidan 7.2

      with respect to your assertion that these problems were present regardless of which party was in power, i have had experiences with winz, both under jenny siplys government and helen clarks. the culture within winz during shipleys reign was perceptably toxic. both my partner and i, on graduating from tertiary study applied for the emergency benefit and were confronted with condescension and outright hostility, our caseworker was reluctant to help and actually suggested we were lazy bludgers. she made my partner cry on our first appointment. later i had to apply again when deciding to take up post grad study and had to find part time employment to support my self. i was apprehensive. however i found the culture had changed and i now had a sympathetic and dedicated case worker who made an effort to understand my situation and ensured that i had access to all the entitlements that i qualified for. this was in the clark years.

      • weka 7.2.1

        Hi aidan, I tend to agree with that and it matches my experience, although I would qualify it.

        Labour cut the hardship grant Special Benefit. That’s as bad as the Shipley cuts in the early 90s.

        I also find that the culture improves under Labour, but I’m one of the people how knows how to negotiate the system. I’m not sure how much the culture change benefits people who are far worse off than I am, the truly vulnerable, and those who for whatever reason are unable to self-advocate. Even of those that are there are still people who don’t know their entitlements and don’t get told. I’ve heard it described as National stab you in the front, Labour stab you in the back. It doesn’t surprise me that improvements happen to education and creative self-employment entitlements and support under Labour but that people who are at the really desperate end of the spectrum are still falling through the gaps.

        There is a huge variation in service across the country and depending on who you get in any office.

        So in general I’d say definitely we are better off with Labour, no doubt, but that doesn’t mean that Labour don’t create huge problems alongside the good things they do.

        I don’t see Labour being inclusive of beneficiary wellbeing in their policies currently, although Little will sometimes make statements about how their initiatives about about the wellbeing of ALL NZers. Much of Labour and GP policy is focussed on child welfare. Neither will talk openly about beneficiary rights. That doesn’t bode well.

        Labour voted for a piece of punitive National legislation last year. David Shearer as Labour Leader engaged in direct and overt beneficiary bashing and cultural reinforcement of bludger memes in 2012. I’ve not seen Labour do anything to correct that.

        • Sabine 7.2.1.1

          one of the big things for me that stand out in the difference between Labour and National are the ads during the Labour years about accessing benefits and going back to school/work programmes.
          They were positive, up-beat, and again maybe not for all people, but suitable for some.
          They were constantly on TV. Advertising for Adult Education evening education, and so on.

          I have invited a job broker last year to my shop to talk about a full time position this year. That was the most surreal thing in my life ever. It was as if i were speaking to an alien. All was well, there are no record number of jobless, or beneficiaries, all the Winz staff wants is to find ‘careers’ for their staff paying at least 18 – 20 $ per hour – as she explained we don’t want to just get them jobs we want them to get of the benefit – and what nots.
          End of the discussion, she never came back to me until the new year, several month had past, to tell me glibly that she went on holiday for 6 weeks and misplaced her notes about our discussion and are you still looking for someone?

          I just laughed at her, and essentially told her that if this is the best Winz can do i feel sorry for anyone needing her services.

          In the meantime i had split my full time position between my two part timers that were more then happy for the extra hours.

          Just fucking pathetic, and I do believe that the WINZ drones themselves have no reason to make it easy on themselves or their ‘clients’ lest they loose their own jobs, and suddenly they too are ‘clients’ in search of a benefit.

    • aidan 7.3

      in addition the clark government innitiated programmes and grants to encourage and support people in becoming successfully self employed, especially in creative industry (design/ art/music) these were later gutted and made more or less inaccessable to many when bennet became minister. i went to winz to make enquieries agout programmes i knew existed and was stonewalled at reception when i tried to make an appointment. to find out more. once again as soon as set foot in the door i was met whith an adversarial, hostile reception.

    • Olwyn 7.4

      Thanks for that list Weka. Number 8 on your list is worth highlighting, because the vilification of beneficiaries under this government exceeds anything that came before it – they have picked up on a minor prejudice and nurtured it to become a major one. When you put this together with the lack of clarity around beneficiaries’ rights, you end up with a group that everyone is free to vilify, but who is not free to defend itself for fear of sanctions.

      • Rosie 7.4.1

        “they have picked up on a minor prejudice and nurtured it to become a major one.”

        Yes, the media have run with it and spoon fed this growing prejudice by indulging haters in the comments sections of various online news media. It’s been free rein with the kick em when they’re down group, which has surely contributed to normalising a feeling of public contempt towards anyone on a any form of benefit regardless of their circumstances.

      • greywarshark 7.4.2

        Olwyn I hadn’t read this originally but was catching up on Mary’s story and gosh it is bad to read about every time.

        In about 1990 I noted a Polytechnic tutor who was one of those bright, go ahead types who had skills, had worked hard and done well, and very self satisfied and full of aspirational approach, run down beneficiaries to the class. I was surprised at the depth of disgust in the young people I met from this class back in 1990. The scapegoating was well under way then, while the economy was being dismantled for a brave new world of neo liberal business that would lift us into new jobs and a new way of doing things = better. Dizzney story.

        One beneficiary had got into the news for paying too much for something and her name was mud. But wealthy people can take others criminally for millions. They aren’t so easy to villify somehow. Better to pick on some little person not doing well. It is as if financial criminals are admired because they are aiming high, not like those low petty shoplifters and unemployed.

    • Rosie 7.5

      weka, a new government should hire you to sort WINZ out.

      I feel saddened by your review of how WINZ operates but particularly saddened by your point at 9.

      It is wrong that advocacy groups need to exist in the first place. It’s all back to front. As well as appropriate and timely financial support clients also should be provided with personal support so they are encouraged to use WINZ, and made to feel welcome and safe. This is a first line duty to it’s people that a government should be responsible for. It’s says a lot about winz’s service that there needs to be an army of volunteers to do their work for them.

      (This may sound naive but what ever happened to the notion of equality? We all need to be respected, treated with compassion and served equally no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, in life).

      Am just dealing with WINZ at the moment. Acting as my mothers agent due to her Huntingtons Disease related dementia and her deafness I have applied for a residential subsidy for her hospital care. My brother is her power of attorney and helped with the paperwork but was so overwhelmed by it, and I’ve no head for numbers, that he handed the application over to his accountant to deal with.

      The application was sent off with all the relevant items of verification but I’ve just had a letter back saying they have declined her application because there was no verification, among a few other points that contradict her documented reality.

      So back to square one.

      • joe90 7.5.1

        So back to square one.

        Been there, done that, Rosie, and the only advice I can offer is take good care of yourself and that means being unashamed about using respite services too, contact and make use of Age Concern and the Alzheimer Association, get to know and be able to name names – from the gerontologist and their aged care team, your mum’s GP and care staff through to individual WINZ staff, wheedle direct dial numbers out of all those you deal with, communicate with and, and I can’t stress this enough, share the load with family members and be persistent.

        • Rosie 7.5.1.1

          Thank you joe90.

          It is a bit overwhelming but we do have some good supports. It’s a relief that Mum is finally, permanently in hospital. (It’s an Arron Bhatnager Palace for the Aged). I had been pleading with the geriatrician for months to refer Mum to hospital due to Mum’s inability to care for herself in her unit, her frequent falls and the fact that her daily care from Enliven was inadequate but it took one terrible fall, after days of falls before any one did anything.

          There is also a field worker from the Huntingtons Disease Association that has been remarkable. She has provided us with useful contacts and has advocated on Mum’s behalf. As for sharing the load, I’m afraid I’ve been dragging the chain. I live in a different town from Mum, am too unwell to drive long distance at the moment and don’t have the $$$ for petrol anyway, so the others are very grumpy with me.

          I can at least be persistent with WINZ, as Mum’s agent.

          I hope that you were well supported during your time caring for an unwell elder.

    • The Other Mike 7.6

      “long history of Work and Income … not informing clients of their entitlements”

      100% correct. I was made redundant in 2010 (at the age of 60) with no redundancy pay as the firm went bust. I was not fully paid in the three months prior to that. WINZ told me I was entitled to an Accommodation Supplement (like, that’s all), even though I had 3 kids at home under 18 and my wife worked about 15 hours a week.

      This was the first time I have had as interaction with WINZ and I did not know the score (then!). Fortunately I met an old friend who had actually worked there many years ago and he advocated for me and, lo and behold – Unemployment Benefit – 2 YEARS LATER!

      I had been paying taxes since I was 16 and totally unimpressed.

    • adam 7.7

      And stop calling it WINZ for the love of God. It is work and income.

      I know it is the popular name for the ministry of social developments office. But we need to name it for the beast that it is.

      Otherwise *Hugs* weka spot on. I’d also add, it is much worse than I thought out there, and I work on the front lines.

      I got a wee bit of a shock, at the level of fear of the people in need. Not to mention confusion and despair at having to deal with work and income, without a support person.

    • left for dead 7.8

      Very thoughtful comment their weka, thank you

  8. Colonial Viper 8

    Time to go to a generous UBI per week.

    • weka 8.1

      There will still be people who need topups, so the culture and structural issues will still need to be solved even with a decent UBI.

  9. UncookedSelachimorpha 9

    The inaccessibility, humiliation of applicants and paucity of publicly-available information at WINZ is not caused by a lack of resources or incompetence. I believe it is instead a completely deliberate strategy to minimise payments using extralegal means.

  10. weka 10

    Fuck. I’ve just watched that video in the update. That should be compulsory viewing for anyone who holds an opinion about welfare.

    Donations can be made to AAAP,

    One offs https://aaap.nationbuilder.com/one-off

    Ongoing donation https://aaap.nationbuilder.com/donate

    • Sabine 10.1

      it is a sad video to watch.
      Reminds me of the documentaries from the US when they have the Medical Teams go to poor areas to offer free dental care and the likes and people start camping out days ahead just to get their teeth removed.

    • Rosie 10.2

      Shameful was the right word to use in the post title. That video made me feel so sadly outraged I felt a bit teary.

      The volunteers are true angels. The young guy seemed, understandably, a little overwhelmed. Witnessing such hardship on such a large scale will have an impact. How sad it is that his generation know nothing of the more equal society we once had.

      • Gangnam Style 10.2.1

        “How sad it is that his generation know nothing of the more equal society we once had.” – How true!

  11. dave 12

    work income capped the amount people you can help what kind of rubbish is that
    winz need to be subjected to some aggressive protest action. i can see why tully had to use a shot gun to get help winz are totally ineffective
    and this is in the twilight of the rock star economy what going happen when the economic bubbles burst and hit main street winz just aren’t up to the job
    winz are there to act as a road block

    the faster we move to a UBI the better a software dot that can cope and remove the the barriers to assistance

    • Mel 12.1

      I don’t think anyone needed to die for doing their job. It easy for you to say that, but what that those days did was put our beneficiaries still into debt.

      My cousin was happy to get the help but hello, she still has to pay has to pay back all the things she got from WINZ.

  12. Mary 13

    Winz is a degrading & abusive institution. It drags thousands through the courts every year, I was unfortunate to be one of them.
    I am not saying i did everything perfect at winz, but I did not deserve to be dragged through the hell that I did by this barbaric and cruel system.
    I believe I was one of their victims as I own my own home & the investigator must of thought I was easy game to fatten her wallet, as they get a commission for the amount of debt they create for beneficiaries.
    This investigator interegated me for six months, then dumped a huge ‘overpayment’ of which i was absolutely shocked. By principle I decided I was not paying this unfair amount, she then proceeded to prosecute me knowing it would have a huge stressful influence and may even mean the end of my profession.
    When I asked for a review of this debt, as a bully tactic she added another $5000 to her already large debt, therefore I withdrew the review & it changed back.
    I regularly suspended my U.benefit when I had enough casual work to survive. I even asked winz to cancel my benefit once & they said ‘No’, as you dont have a stable income & how will you cover your mortgage & rates etc?
    Winz prosecuted me with 4 charges stating I deceived them saying i was ‘not working’.
    Not working?, I declared this many many times & it was on all my U.B applications I had casual work only, and all my case managers knew it and knew me personally?
    I now also have to pay back several thousands for a lawyer to defend this in court.
    In court both the investigator & MSD prosecuter both lied and exagerated the amount I had earned, – I could not believe it, Is this really how low beurocrats go to do their job?
    I hope the wheels of cruelty begin to turn back on some of these nasty individuals, and they get a good taste of their own poisonous medicine.
    God help all who get targeted by Winz. Many are just pawns in this evil & corrupt system. I am so glad to be totally free from their so called assistance. Even the case managers refused to just tell the truth of what I told them & help me. One I saw smiling in delight when they saw me in trouble, and they joined the others in court.
    BTW, I am now doing well by Gods grace. After a two year major negative assault on my health and wellbeing. I still find days difficult to get my head around this nightmare, but choose to focus on the good that is ahead of me & be thankful this experience will only make me stronger.

  13. Every WINZ client has an annual review, set of forms, sent to them.
    Every one of those sent set of forms, doesn’t include a post paid return envelope that we typically see with other government agencies.

    This is a simple sign of how WINZ makes it their objective to make it difficult for even a beneficiary who is disabled to have their benefit cancelled because they can’t put a form in an envelope and put a stamp on it.

    When you need a degree in office management to have the skills to interact with a government department … then the writing is clearly on the wall.

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