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Liberal Comfort Zone

I’ve read a few things over the past few days that make me grateful for what I call my LCZ – Liberal Comfort Zone.

Some people might say I’m sticking my head in the sand and attempting to remaining willfully naiive  – and in doing so, I’m letting the side down. I should be aware of the issues, so I can speak up about them. I should be educating myself constantly, so I can fight against revolting prejudice, corruption, and plain ignorance.

And I try, to a certain extent. I’m aware of the news each day, I just prefer to have it filtered through my wonderful Twitter stream. I pretty much only follow people whose views are roughly equal to mine. This way, I see the news – and I see it with a healthy dose of outrage already applied. I know that other people feel the same way I do. I don’t have to yell and curse and argue, (like I do if I watch the TV news,) because the issues are presented with a lens I find applicable to me.

I probably shouldn’t do this. It gives me a skewed view of the world. It makes me think that everyone is liberal and open-minded and intelligent. Clearly, they’re not.

On Thursday, the Nelson Mail ran a story about a mother who had committed benefit fraud to the tune of $23,000. I was immensely relieved to read that she hadn’t been sent to jail, but would have to pay the money back to WINZ. Even that will be incredibly difficult for her, as they’ll be taking $30 off her benefit each week – $30 she probably desperately needs.

Her crime was that she had a partner living with her and didn’t declare this, so she ended up receiving money she wasn’t entitled to. The story doesn’t mention why she did this – but I think I have a pretty good idea. Like me, she’ll be struggling to live on what WINZ provides, and she has children to support as well. I’m not condoning what she did. I’m saying I understand why she did it.

And $23,000? Seriously? It’s such a measly sum in comparison to the tax debt in New Zealand, currently hovering around $6 billion. As I’ve written about before (post – Let’s Talk About Entitlement), IRD is more likely to write off a tax debt, than WINZ is to write off a benefit debt – even though tax evasion costs the country 50 times as much each year. There are 800 prosecutions annually for welfare fraud. There are 50 for tax evasion.

Anyway, after reading about this woman, I did something really stupid. I read the Facebook comments on on the article.

And well hell if that didn’t give me a fucking reality check like a frozen fish to the face.

NelsonMail

 

They make you sick, do they Brenda? Well, you know what makes me sick? Your ignorance, your arrogance, and your complete lack of compassion.

Ignorance is probably the key word. Despite what all these people (who presumably have never been in a situation where they need support) seem to think, it’s actually really hard to commit benefit fraud. There are not “too many people fraudulently receiving benefits.” Even when I was almost too ill to leave my bed, I had to fill out form after form, and get medical certificates and stamped documents and letters, to be able to even apply for my benefit.

Every week, I’m required to make a declaration to WINZ about my financial situation. They have access to my bank accounts, and if they believe I am lying, they can access my accounts. Every month, I am required to go in and meet with my case manager, to prove my situation remains the same. And every three months, I have to provide a new medical certificate to prove that I am still chronically ill.

To commit benefit fraud, you have to lie multiple times, on multiple forms, over the phone, and to people’s faces. This suggests to me that whomever does this has to be pretty darned determined. Like – determined to look after their children possibly? Or try to hold onto a little bit extra for food or medical bills or new shoes or the bus?

I feel incredibly sorry for the woman named in the story. Yes, she did something illegal. But no one deserves the hatred and poison on the pens of those commenters. It made me feel physically sick to read.

So if I have to stay in my LCZ, even 80-90% of the time (I have to go outside occasionally), then I bloody well will. Because I can’t deal with people like that, with their prejudice and ignorance and privilege. Getting angry and upset literally makes me more ill. I feel nauseated and shakey right now, having gotten very emotional while writing this. So yes, I’ll stay here a while. Resting, waiting, building energy. Fighting gently from the couch.

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About writehandedgirl

Sarah is a writer who is passionate about social justice, feminism, politics, and cats. She is a columnist and poet and currently lives in Nelson. You can follow Sarah on Twitter (@writehandedgirl) or read more of her writing at writehanded.org

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