First of all, thank you. Thank you for the support, the offers of assistance, and the huge amount of information I’ve been given around complaints, reviews, and advocacy procedures. It’s incredible.
I certainly never expected such a response.
And you know why I got this response? Because this is not my story. This is not about my terror, my humiliation, and my $40 a week.
This is about the hundreds, thousands, of people who have the exact same experience with the system they rely on to survive.
There’s a reason I’m sitting here writing this, even though I’m exhausted and I’m in pain and I’m feeling pretty damn overwhelmed, by both the positive and the negative responses to my story.
The reason is: we shouldn’t need this abundant plethora of advocacy services and complaints procedures and review processes.
We need these things because of systemic, consistent and widespread failure in the New Zealand welfare system as managed by the Ministry of Social Development.
This is not a new problem. It is not a unique problem. You only have to read the comments on my last post to get a sense of how terribly, terribly commonplace it is to be treated badly by WINZ. To have your important, private, expensive documents to be lost by WINZ. To walk in to a WINZ office feeling terrified. To walk out of a WINZ office feeling degraded, defeated, and in tears.
Why? Why is this allowed to continue? Many people have said that if they, in their jobs, so consistently “lost” paperwork and caused customers to cry, they would have been fired. And yet, it goes on. In every town, in every community, across New Zealand.
This is not just a result of the latest welfare reforms. This is a deepseated cultural and political problem that leads to repeated, widespread procedural misconduct.
We can’t respond to every case with advocacy services. The truth is – I might be writing this, but it’s going to wreck me. I don’t have the energy or the fight left in me to enlist an advocate, to research the process, to lay complaints, to ask for reviews. I know that many other sick people will not either. We already have enough on our plates just trying to keep a weak grip on the entitlement we do have.
I also know for a fact that the review and complaints processes are just as broken as the rest of the system. My friend Chris has been trying to get extra help, and a decision reviewed, for months. He’s gotten nowhere. If you think my story is sad, his is gutwrenching. (Click the “welfare” tag on his site and you’ll see).
I’ve had several Members of Parliament (Labour and Green) step forward and ask me how they can help. This is my message to you.
Thank you. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for hearing me.
I don’t need help getting my $40 p/week back. It’s gone. What I need is for this culture of utter incompetence to change. What I need is for all these voices (see the comments on previous blog) to be met with the kindness and compassion and humanity they deserve. What I need is for this to be an election issue. What I need is for it to be talked about in the most important places in New Zealand politics – your house, your offices.
I have contacted my local MPs to hear their thoughts. I would like Questions asked in Parliament. I would like to know what Paula Bennet is going to do about the fact sick people are starving on her watch. About the fact that people go into WINZ offices and are treated like less than human beings.
About giving more support to the WINZ frontline staff, whose time would be better spent getting some customer training than clapping for having forced someone off the benefit. They are clearly underresourced, since my case manager loses my files and can’t find the time to get back to me about the money that is my only lifeline until I literally turn up on her doorstep.
People have said: “You shouldn’t have to talk to a Minister about operational services.” In this case, we do, because the operational services aren’t working.
If they were, we wouldn’t need the Benefits Rights Service, BUWTA, Benefit Education Services Trust, CAB, the Health and Disability Commission, the Privacy Commission, our local MPs, community law and so many other organisations and dignitaries to get involved just so we could get the basic entitlement from the social welfare system.
It’s broken. But it’s not beyond repair.
By all means, use my story as an example. I’ll come to Wellington. I’ll stand in the House, with my cane, and I’ll explain what it is like to try and live like this. This is the human cost. This is what the face of welfare looks like.
Please, if you do nothing else, go and read the comments on the last post. (There are some nasty ones, of course, be prepared). These are real people’s stories. This is the reality. I am not alone.
If only it was “failure”. I’ve got a pretty good suspicion that it’s done that way on purpose. They* want to break, infantilise and humiliate everyone who comes in, to make them accept any awful job, or just to leave them alone. It’s called “the discipline of the market”. Depression and misery drives wages down.
(*That’s the system I’m talking about. Just like the guards at Dachau, some WINZ staff are lovely and helpful, some are sadistic bastards, and some just do their jobs.)
Just found your blog via a friend on facebook. Glad to know someone is speaking up.
As a young male with depression, going through the whole process of getting on the sickness benefit made me fell sick and I firmly believe had it not been so difficult I would have been able to get back on my feet quicker.
However, this was no the case and have only just now felt able to try get a job.
Cheers for voicing your intellegent opinion as it has made me feel good, like someone else does care.
You are awesome.
I wrote this poem in response to discussions on this issue, it is one close to my heart too. I thought you might like it 🙂
I’m the Chris Sarah mentions above. My first nervous breakdown back in… the end of 2004, I think (though ofc the technical term is “major depressive episode”) was actually caused by attitudes about the sickness benefit and the sort of person that relies on welfare. I got out of a bad relationship, came home, went straight back to work, worked two jobs to support myself and fell apart. I’ve just turned 29 now and I’ve been on and off benefits through my whole 20s, often having relapses when I try to push myself back into work or study too fast. I’d been doing much better the last three years but I can feel it happening again and it’s absolutely devastating.
At one point I worked on the front line of a certain organisation. We had a very poor public image. I had a client ask me “do I need to get a lawyer?” My response was:
“Well, it’s really up to you. But I promise you this. Your lawyers job will be to get you everything you are entitled to, and they will charge you for doing so. My job is to make sure you get everything you are entitled to. And you’ve already paid for it”
The problem is that the organisational culture is really sick. Far more so than the people it is supposed to help. And the staff are driven in a particular direction by the organisation. They’re told “if you don’t do X, you won’t get an increase in pay, and you might even lose your job”. So, naturally, they fall into line. Because they are just one person.
There are clear rules about who is entitled to support, and what they are entitled to. And yet Governmental pressure on these organisations, almost to the extent of “see what you can get away with” (in terms of denying support) just throws it all out the window. If the Government really doesn’t want to pay out these benefits, then they have to change the rules. To change the effective rules by stealth is so far beyond despicable.
I implore all “case managers” out there to be aware of their own rules, and commit to ensuring your clients receive everything they are entitled to. You will actually save your organisation money. They amount of effort and money spent on dealing with dissatisfaction is more than it would cost to just pay up in the first place.
As for showing your clients respect? It costs nothing. And it is so simple to do. But it starts from the top. THIS is the trickle-down effect I want to see. Kindness, respect, compassion. Starting at the top and encouraging others to do so. It’s how you get an effective system.
A few years ago I was diagnosed with end stage renal failure and was so sick that I had to go on dialysis, I carried on working for about six months but had to stop work because I literally couldn’t walk.
I went into Winz and asked the woman what I needed to do to go on a sickness benefit because I needed to feed myself and my young 6 year old daughter.
She took one look at me and said “There’s nothing wrong with you, you need to be on the job seekers benefit.”
I told her I wanted to speak to someone else, she said I had to wait until someone became available. So I sat there for 2 hours before anyone attended to me.
The woman who did see to me only came over because she noticed that I was sitting there unattended.
I told her what had happened and she said that my name hadn’t even been put on the list of clients to see.
That’s the type of appalling attitude and service you face when you walk into a Winz office.
After reading your previous and then this post, I must express my full support for you – and I thank you for raising these very important issues with WINZ and welfare policy. It is indeed more than just your and many other persons’ personal experiences with flawed processes, with failures, with some case managers and other WINZ staff, who may lack sympathy and understanding.
It is certainly also a political issue, that needs to be addressed. Sadly we hear far too little on this from Labour’s spokespersons on welfare (Sue Moroney and Louise Wall), and Jacinda Ardern just continues to raise her main topic of child poverty and child abuse. That is another subject altogether and fair enough for her to raise this.
The Greens seem to be placing a bit more emphasis on social justice matters, and Jan Logie has at times done a good job raising such appalling treatment issues like you have here. But I feel that she and Labour can and must do much more.
To really address the treatment mentally ill and others suffer when dealing with WINZ, one must look at what is actually behind it. There are indeed a lot of things that are causing case managers, also WINZ Regional Health Advisors and Regional Disability advisors, and the designated doctors they use, to act and decide as they do. Yes, there is also a clear agenda that is behind it.
Firstly they want to do all to dis-encourage people to even apply for benefits, secondly they have introduced medical assessment criteria, which go further than what was already in place. They have already before mistrusted every “client” and treated them as potential “fraudsters”. But we now have a situation where even doctors and specialists are told by MSD and WINZ that they must do all to keep people off benefits, as even WINZ’s Principal Health Advisor Dr David Bratt has been claiming that “benefit dependence” is just like “drug depdendence”. That is fact, and he is telling this to GPs and the wider medical profession, and he uses selected research from the UK, which is flawed and rather “ideological” than based on robust science.
Only once people go beyond their understandable emotional upset and anger, and start questioning what is behind all this, and inform themselves and themselves start challenging the “reasoning” by MSD, then there may be a chance for change. The ones like David Bratt, David Beaumont and Professor Aylward must be exposed and challenged:
More is found here, to get a grip of what is behind the draconian treatment dished out by WINZ:
Click to access THE-HIDDEN-AGENDA-a-research-summary-March-2013.pdf
Some advice re how to deal with designated doctors and other WINZ commissioned assessors, some of whom will in future be outsourced private service providers: