Tuesday 16 July 2013

When Life Gives You Lemons, Dealing With WINZ Sucks Even More

Sometimes life gives you lemons... things don't go the way you plan... life is hard.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you do not have a job.

In 1930 the first unemployment benefit was established in New Zealand.  The Unemployment Act promised relief payments to those who registered as unemployed and then it followed that there would be no payments made without work, meaning those registered would have to participate in government 'make work' schemes such as building roads and working on farms or in forestry projects.  The Social Security Act of 1938 followed and made it that the benefit was "payable to a person 16 years of age and over who has been in New Zealand for at least 12 months and is unemployed, is capable of and willing to undertake suitable work, and has taken reasonable steps to secure employment".  (Wikipedia - Welfare in New Zealand).  And since then more benefits have been added and many changes have occurred.

You can have all the qualifications and work experience in the world... but you may not be the person for that organisation or another one, and the next thing you know you are unemployed, leaving bills unopened on the table, getting inventive with food (or inviting yourself to other people's places to eat), popping $10 in the petrol tank, scraping together enough to pay the rent so you won't be homeless, scouring the net for jobs to apply for (including those out of the sphere of your qualifications and experiences).

This is the reality many people find themselves in at least once in their lives.  Suddenly the rug is pulled out from under them (they are made redundant, the company goes into liquidation, a contract comes to an end and another doesn't materialise, or you stuff up big time and get the "don't come Monday") and they think "It's ok, I'll find another job, and if I have to I'll go to WINZ for help."

If you haven't been there... count yourself lucky.  It's not a place I want to be ever again... but this was my life twice during 2010.

I had a fixed term position and I had not secured a new position so I knew that my pay was coming to an end, and I reduced expenditure in accordance.... but money only lasts so long, and then it is gone.  For nearly two months I was on the bones of my bum.

It was scary, demoralising, depressing, soul destroying.... and that was before I dealt with WINZ.

Dealing with WINZ I was made to feel the lowest of the low, like filth on the bottom of one's shoe.  Like I was an uneducated lay about who was feckless and without gumption.

I was ridiculed because I did not come to WINZ as soon as I became unemployed  -  I honestly thought I could secure another job, or earn enough as a reliever, the eternal optimist.  I was told to sell possessions, which I refused to do as most of what I owned was second hand already when I got it so it wouldn't yield much, and then it would cost me more to replace them later on.  I was told to move to a cheaper house.  From experience, as I have moved a lot, I can tell you it would have been more expensive for me to move than to stay where I was.  I was told to cancel all my insurances  -  I refused as I reckoned as soon as I did that I'd crash into a brand new BMW, my house would burn down and I would need a major operation - never cancel your insurance!!

The day I went to WINZ I actually opened a power bill to find it was a notice of disconnection.  That sent me into a mad panic.

I had to pull the tears out to the lady at WINZ.  To her credit, she probably deals with a lot of sad cases each day who know all the ways to manipulate the system.  But I was at desperation stage.  I had no money left to pay the next lot of rent.  My power, phone, internet and gas were about to be disconnected.  I couldn't put petrol in my car to drive the 90km back to where I lived (no public transport in a rural district where the townships are isolated from each other by geographical land features of a large size).

Luckily for me though, I had been to a job interview the day before and secured the job.  Unfortunately it would be about six weeks before I started the job (the nature of my profession), and another two and a half weeks after that until I would be paid.

I have found before that having a job to start means WINZ is more likely to help you.  They can see that you are a short term project, that you'll be quickly off the books.  If you are going to stick around for a much longer period of time then they will put as many road blocks in the way to them helping you as they possibly can.

So because I was going to be starting a job, WINZ reluctantly agreed to pay my power and gas bills and a contribution towards my phone and internet bills and the next rent.  No money to get the 90km home though.  And I'd be paying them back these advances (this was to take me about two years to do this, as more was later added to the total during the second time as a 'government employee'). 

I was granted the Unemployment Benefit and an Accommodation allowance.  It all came out at close to $240 per week.  My rent at the time was $300 a week (living in a popular coastal town, that I'd moved to because of my previous position, is expensive) which meant I still had a shortfall.

The position was a fixed term position, with the possibility of extending it... which didn't happen, and again I found myself suddenly without employment.  I went to an interview prior to finishing, but another worthy applicant won that position.

This time I didn't wait as long to visit WINZ.  I was back after my last pay went through.  This time I had to do one of their "job seeker seminars" where they taught me to suck eggs on how to apply for a job.  They showed me the jobs they had available.... they were very few and not where I lived.

But I was no slouch.  I investigated several options.  I had interviews for two very different positions loosely linked to my expertise.... came extraordinarily close to taking one, which would have led me out of the country for a while.... and then a new opportunity came along.  I applied on a Friday, was rung that afternoon to come for an interview on Monday, got the job to start Friday (someone else was in a hurry to leave, and this is a short time frame for my profession).

This brought in new complications for dealing with WINZ.  The job wasn't in the area I lived in, but just over two hours away.  I had accommodation with family close to the job.... but I didn't have the dosh to physically get to the job - I needed petrol in the car. 

I made an emergency appointment with the local WINZ office to sort this out.  I turned up at the appropriate time to find all the staff had gone home sick!!!  This was too much.  I raged at the poor person at the other end of the 0800 number, who then put me onto the main district office 90km away.  I was never going to make it to that office to get it all sorted, so they sent me to the local community centre who gave me petrol money to get to the new job.

That was my 2010 experience. 

This week Paula Bennett, the Minister of Social Development (or whatever they are calling it this year!) introduced changes to the beneficiary system - not just the unemployment benefit, but ALL benefits.

On Monday 15 July, the following came into being:
  • the DPB, Unemployment and Sickness Benefits won’t exist.
  • Replacing a complex system of seven categories are three main benefits:
            -  Jobseeker Support for those actively seeking and available for work            
            -  Sole Parent Support for sole parents with children under 14 years           
            -  Supported Living Payment for people significantly restricted by sickness, injury or
  • all beneficiary parents will have to ensure their children:
            -  attend 15 hours a week in ECE from 3-5yrs           
            -  attend school from age five or six           
            -  enrol with a PHO, Integrated Family Health Centre or GP
            -  complete WellChild/Tamariki Ora checks
  • The changes also require anyone with work expectations to be drug-free, and benefits can now be stopped if people fail to clear outstanding arrest warrants. 
  • From October 2012, changes for sole parent beneficiaries introduced expectations to be available for part-time work when their youngest is school-age and full-time work when their youngest turns 14.
Some of these reforms look like good ideas.  I think those with outstanding arrest warrants should not be getting my tax payers dollars, particularly if it is for something more significant that parking fines.  Getting more kids enrolled with a GP for consistent health care and enrolled in early childhood education is great too.  I also agree that it is a good thing to get people back into work for their own self worth as well has for their ability to earn more money and be contributing members of society. 

But here is where I have some problems (like many others):
  • Show me the jobs!!!  Those ghost jobs.....  most part time work for solo parents does not fit into school or ECE hours... so then there is the problem of childcare and the expense of it and the safety of it.  Until you address those issues, this is not going to fly.
  • Forcing people into work when they have valid health reasons for not working is going to be problematic.  Who makes that decision?  The individual's own GP, or is this going to be like the ACC debacle of the last few years where some contracted doctor reviews the paperwork without meeting the client and declares they are fit for work.  Then what happens if one (or more) of these people goes back to work and they end up in a worse condition as a result, or go postal?  This is going to be a huge problem, and it will blow up in Paula's face if she has not done this properly, which knowing National, it won't have.
  • Duh - it's already a legal requirement to have your child enrolled at school by age 6.  That is a dumb one.
  • 15 hours of ECE for children of beneficiaries - another problematic issue.  For starters, this takes choice away from the parents.  Is anyone forcing a family with one working parent and one stay at home parent into a minimum number of ECE hours?  What makes that stay at home parent any better at educating a pre-schooler than a stay at home beneficiary parent?  What if there is no appropriate provider in your area where you live?  What if you do not have the transportation to the ECE provider?  And for three year olds, most kindergartens don't offer sessions meeting 15 hours, in fact in some areas you are lucky if you get your child into a kindi before they turn four... and playcentres don't count under this policy... so again the beneficiary parents are denied choice for how their pre-schooler receives their pre-school education.
  • Children in ECE last year were given an identification number.  While the article Kindy kids to have ID numbers in the NZ Herald proclaims it is for children of beneficiaries, all children received one on enrolment (or if they were already enrolled).  However this raises questions about how these numbers and the data collected will be used as well as privacy issues.  Will these numbers be used to monitor and dob in beneficiaries?
  • While doctors visits for under 5s are supposed to be free, that is not the case in every area.  And children under 5 do not always wait for business hours to need a doctor.  Consequently parents fork out big time when they have to do an out of hours doctors visit.  Just this week a case in Hamilton was highlighted of a parent leaving a doctor's surgery as there was a $35 cost for her ten month old baby to be seen as she was from out of town.  So make ALL consultations free for under 5s even out of normal hours and even when it is not their actual doctor or clinic (provided they are enrolled).
  • Not every parent is a fan of vaccinations.  Part of being a parent is making those decisions.  I do not think it right for the state to force the parents of a child into giving them a vaccination that they fundamentally don't agree with.  If that is the parent's choice, then get them to sign a document stating that they made the decision not to vaccinate after researching thoroughly.  Then be it on their heads if something unfortunate happens.
  • Drug testing - while I agree that being drugged out on the job is not a good thing I do have an issue with making beneficiaries do a drug test and pay for it themselves.  If you have a history of drug taking, lost a previous job as a result of drug taking, or are applying for a job in an industry that requires a clear drug screen, sure, go for testing them... and in the first two instances, make the beneficiary pay.  But I see this as a slippery slide into all beneficiaries having to pass drug tests to get a benefit very regularly, and if you have no history of taking drugs, then this would be on the nose.  Just because you are a beneficiary does not mean you take drugs.  If I had been asked to do this I would have been highly offended. 
  • WINZ says it will continue your benefit  "If you agree to take part in an approved activity for at least six weeks and you are still entitled to your benefit, it will be restarted."  (http://www.workandincome.govt.nz/individuals/benefit-changes/pre-employment-drug-testing.html).  That's great.  But we have a significant lack of drug and alcohol programmes in New Zealand, and the ones we do have are struggling to keep up with demand and gain appropriate funding.  Providers are sounding a warning.
Of course if you don't comply with the changes, your benefit gets cut.  If you are a parent, how do you feed your kids then?  Do these changes really benefit children in the long run?

I was watching a documentary a few weeks ago late at night A Civilised Society.  The synopsis is as follows:

This documentary looks at the new right ideology that transformed public education in the 80s and 90s and the schism it caused with teachers. Interviews with parents, teachers and unionists are cut together with archive footage of treasury officials and politicians advocating that schools be run as businesses. There are vexed board of trustees' meetings, an infamous deal between Avondale College and Pepsi, and teachers take their opposition from the classroom to the streets. The film is the third in Alister Barry's series critical of neo-liberal reform in NZ.

In the fourth segment, from memory, it shows a principal from an Auckland school saying that children were coming to school hungry, the only meal of the day of consequence was what her school was providing that day, and the children would go home to a cup of tea and some bread for dinner that night.

New Zealand has an epidemic of rheumatic fever.  Other western countries have eliminated this disease.  It is rife here.  Why? 

Rheumatic fever primarily affects children between ages 5 and 17 years with only 20% of first-time attacks occurring in adults, and occurs approximately 20 days after strep throat. In up to a third of cases, the underlying strep infection may not have caused any symptoms.  The illness is so named because of its similarity in presentation to rheumatism.  (Wikipedia)

Rheumatic fever in New Zealand has been shown to be predominant within Maori and Pacific Island groups and with poor people.  Over crowding within the home is one significant factor, as is cold and damp homes.  It causes heart problems when left undiagnosed and untreated.

Last November, Professor Norman Sharpe, the medical director of the National Heart Foundation, said, "I feel ashamed, I feel it is intolerable - we have people coming here from overseas, young doctors from the UK and they can't believe we have rheumatic fever. It scarcely exists in the UK."  He praised the Government's sore-throat swabbing programme in schools, which he expected would control rheumatic fever, but it was a "bandaid" and the problem needed to be addressed "upstream" too, by dealing with poverty, overcrowding and poor quality housing.  (NZ Herald 9/11/12)

There is a programme in South Auckland aiming to eradicate rheumatic fever, and even they are surprised by its extent.  Nurses have found higher rates than expected of streptococcal throat infections in a mass South Auckland programme aimed at cutting the high rates of rheumatic fever in the region.  Because overcrowding is a major factor in strep-throat contraction the coalition is also looking to grow the programme so that housing needs are addressed by Whanau Ora workers or Housing New Zealand.  Nurse Lynn Vasquez, 27, works at East Tamaki and Dawson Road Primary Schools. Her work also includes treatment for serious skin infections such as scabies - which have been eradicated from her schools - boils, infected eczema, cellulitis and school sores. Across the region 2404 children have been treated for skin conditions.  "Overcrowding is a massive, massive issue," she says.  (NZ Herald 17/7/13)

And how will these welfare changes improve things for kids like these? Because I predict a rise in rheumatic fever and serious skin infections and other respiratory ailments like asthma (cold, damp and mouldy houses contribute to this) due to these welfare changes, because overcrowding in houses will increase, people won't be able to afford to go to the doctor or pay for their power bills to get heating (thus increasing sickness), and there will be considerable problems arising from a lack of appropriate diet affecting how children perform in schools so therefore a comprehensive food in schools programme is essential.

But what sticks in my craw the most about these changes and the previous changes to the welfare system since November 2008, particularly the ones against solo parents trying to better themselves, is the hypocrite that Paula Bennett truly is.

Credit where credit is due, Paula Bennett has pulled herself up by her bootstraps... but every piece of help provided to her under the beneficiary system has since been scrapped by her.

Is Paula Bennett even human?  Because I see no compassion for children or their parents in any of these policies.

Her track record in how she deals with those who oppose her is on par with her colleagues (in particular Judith Collins reworking events and reports to suit her, Hekia Parata breaching privacy and Anne Tolley being the bully), but to breach the privacy of WINZ clients and bully them is beneath the level of behaviour expected for a Minister of the Crown.  Ms Bennett clearly doesn't see anything wrong with herself breaching privacy of WINZ clients, that she is above the law.  And then to claim that she won't rule out doing it again is to further question how ethical Ms Bennett is.

I contend then that Paula Bennett fails the standard for the following reasons:
  • She is a hypocrite - she wouldn't be where she was today if it wasn't for all the programmes she axed in 2009.
  • She is clearly not putting children at the centre of her policies, because all these policies will have an adverse affect on children whether she likes it or not.
  • These policies will lead to more people being trapped in a cycle of poverty, and consequently poverty related illnesses (e.g. respiratory conditions, lack of nutrition, mental illnesses).
  • Paula thinks that families slip in and out of poverty on any given day, so does not recognise that poverty is a huge factor in the current New Zealand society.

1 comment:

  1. Agree, nice page, bring out the truth on this corrupt group and have them held in breach of Trust