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About illness, Financial hardship, Politics, WINZ/IRD

The semantics of self worth

I have a couple of different points to make in this post, so bear with me.

Yesterday, I had my usual monthly appointment with WINZ. I understand why these appointments are necessary (even though they have a medical certificate from my doctor telling them my condition has not changed, and will not any time soon). But they are stressful, and stress is the last thing I need.

Firstly, what shocked me was not sitting down to hear “You have to fill in these forms (*insert fifty pages here*) or your benefit will be stopped in four weeks.” No, this didn’t surprise me, because they are continually threatening to do this. And yes, it feels like a threat, because if my support is removed… I don’t know what I’d do. I get one letter a week with this exact tone.

benefitletters

Sample of WINZ letters

Most benefits are reassessed weekly, monthly, 3-monthly for illness, and 52-weekly (yearly).

I’m due for the 52 week reassessment – which means jumping through the same hoops I did when I first applied, though my situation hasn’t changed.

Again, I know why this is necessary, and I respect the process – even though it causes stress, fatigue, and anxiety attacks for me.

Anyway, what really shocked me was: it’s been 52 weeks???? I’ve been out of hospital and living like this – living broke, living with a broken body – for a year? It may not seem like much compared to what some people live with but… man, that sucks.

It seems unreal to me. Where has the time gone? When I got my first 3-month medical certificate to apply for help, I remember thinking “Oh that’s a good length of time, because I’ll be back at work by then.”

I’ve made peace with having to be on a benefit, though I always thought it would be the worst thing in the world.

One of the reasons I thought this was because of the stigma about “beneficiaries.” I hate saying “I’m on a benefit.” Even “welfare” sounds better to me, more accurate, less laden with implied laziness or uselessness.

This for me thinking about the word “benefit.” Where did it come from? It’s synonymous with “welfare” and yet that doesn’t really seem correct. There’s a Welfare in NZ wiki which provides some history but doesn’t really answer the question. Google shows me this:

Benefitdefinition

Interesting. I’m struggling to be articulate about this, but my thinking is: words are powerful. Words create instant connections in our heads. So when people see people getting “a benefit” – they may not immediately thinking “assistance that person is entitled to,” they may think “advantage, profit, comfort, enjoyment.”

“Beneficiaries” are not being awarded with a profit. We’re not living in comfort or enjoyment. We’re actually working very very hard to receive the bare minimum of support needed to be alive.

I have two friends, both disabled, both currently actively fighting WINZ decisions to remove or not grant support. This makes no sense to me. It makes me angry. As a sick person, I know what it takes to fight. It’s very, very hard – sometimes it’s impossible, and so you just give up, and you miss out on things you might be entitled to, because you just don’t have the energy to try and navigate the system.

I am lucky because I have a fantastic case manager who really cares about people. She said to me yesterday; “I’m in a customer support role. I’m here to help you.” I’d never heard of beneficiaries being called customers before. Customers have rights. Being called a customer feels legitimate, it’s worthy, it allows me some self-respect. That means a lot.

Anyway, I’ve filled in all the forms, provided all the evidence of my condition and what it costs me. So now I just have to wait for “the system” to process it, and spit out a Yes or No response.

Its pretty nerve-wracking, actually.

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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 (@_writehanded_) or read more of her writing at writehanded.org

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