WINZ, waste, and wonky numbers

By   /   July 19, 2013  /   24 Comments

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For those readers who have never had the “delight” of dealing with WINZ – these are the forms that are required to be filled out. Note: every single applicant is given these forms (in a little plastic carry-bag).

From previous blogpost,  Bill English: When numbers don’t fit, or just jump around

… Paula Bennett has directed WINZ to make life more difficult for the unemployed, when registering with WINZ. As if losing one’s job wasn’t stressful enough, Bennet has forced the implementation of some draconian rules and requirements for beneficiaries. (The implication being that it’s the fault of  the unemployed for being unemployed?!)

One of the bureacratic bundles of red tape are the number of forms issued to WINZ applicants.

For those readers who have never had the “delight” of dealing with WINZ – these are the forms that are required to be filled out. Note: every single applicant is given these forms (in a little plastic carry-bag).

And if you have to reapply to WINZ for a benefit (if, say, you’ve lost your job again) you are required to fill out these forms all over again.

This is where taxpayer’s money is really going to waste in welfare.

All up, seventythree  pages of information and forms to  read, understand,  fill out, to collect information,

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73 pages of WINZ forms (1)

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73 pages of WINZ forms (2)

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(Blogger’s Note: for a comprehensive view of each page, please go to previous blogpost:  Bill English: When numbers don’t fit, or just jump around)

This system becomes even more laughable when one considers that if an an applicant has been a WINZ “client” (ie, beneficiary) before, they remain on MSD’s computer files. Much of the information sought is already  on-file.

The cost of this must be horrendous, and it is ironic that at a time when National is cutting “back room” support staff to save money, that they are permitting taxpayer funding for this ‘Monty Pythonesque ‘ exercise in out-of-control form-filling. (More on that below.)

No wonder that this was reported in Fairfax media,

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett this morning said latest figures showed 328,043 people were now on benefits, with 57,058 of those on an unemployment benefit.

Reforms passed by Parliament require people on an unemployment benefit to reapply for it after one year. Bennett said this change had led to 5000 people cancelling their benefit.

More than 1400 of those said they had found work, more than 2600 didn’t complete a reapplication and more than 1000 were no longer eligible. ”

See: 5000 beneficiaries quit dole rather than reapply

How many people with minimal education or poor command of the English language could hope to fill out so many forms of such complexity?

By contrast, applying for a bank mortage is vastly simpler – an irony considering the vastly greater sums of money involved.

In fact, an application for an ANZ Mortgage comprises of eight pages (four, double-sided),

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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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Eight pages for a mortgage to borrow anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million and upward.

And 72 pages for an unemployment benefit of  $204.96 per week, net, for a single person over 25. (See:  Unemployment Benefit – current)

So how much does all this cost us?

Last year, this blogger emailed the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) with an Official Information Act (OIA) request, asking what the cost of all these pamphlets cost,

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Date: Tue, Wednesday, 14 November 2012 1:38 PM
From: Frank Macskasy
Subject: Information Request
To: Paula Bennett “Paula.bennett@parliament.govt.nz”

Kia Ora Ms Bennett,

I would like to make an official Freedom of Information Request.

Please provide information as to the costings of the following forms and information leaflets produced by MSD/WINZ;

“Work and Income Employment-Earnings Verification” (VO6-mar 2011)

“Work and Income Find a job build a future Tools to help you find work” (JOBSW0007-nov 2010)

“Jobz4u Manual Jobseeker Enrolment” (-)

“Work and Income Unemployment Benefit Application” (M18-JUL 2011)

“Work and Income Unemployment Benefit Application – What to bring” (M18-JUL 2011)

“Work and Income How can we help you” (CM0001 – OCT 2010)

“Work and Income Online Services”  (-)

“Work and Income” plastic carrybag for above items.

Please provide total costings for EACH item printed, on an annual basis for the last four years, and a break-down of costings for usage per year and per WINZ client.

Thank you for your assistance in this matter.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy
Blogger

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After seeking an extension, on 4 February this year,  the MSD replied with these costings,

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MSD 1 Feb 2013 OIA response (1)

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MSD 1 Feb 2013 OIA response (2)

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Firstly, it’s disappointing to note that of the eight items that I requested costings for, MSD could provide figures for only five. They admitted not have costings for two documents (“Jobz4u Manual Jobseeker Enrolment” and “Work and Income Online Services” ) and made no mention of another (“Work and Income Unemployment Benefit Application – What to bring” ).

However, based on figures provided for other documents, we can certainly make some rough guesses. If MSD’s  figures are correct,  over four years, the cost of printing these 72 pages is around $1 million. Not a hell of a lot, when considering that WINZ benefit’s will be approximate $4.9 billion for just this financial year alone (see:  Budget 2012 – Vote Social Development).

But if a Bank can offer mortgages from $1 to millions of dollars, using an eight page application form – then why would a government department be wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars – millions over decades – for a measely $204.96 (per week, net, for a single person over 25)?

The reason is fairly obvious.

A Bank welcomes a new client in the hope of offering a financial service – eg, a mortgage. Banks view clients as assets.

Under the current government, WINZ is actively discouraging people from signing up for welfare assistance,

Reforms passed by Parliament require people on an unemployment benefit to reapply for it after one year. Bennett said this change had led to 5000 people cancelling their benefit.

More than 1400 of those said they had found work, more than 2600 didn’t complete a reapplication and more than 1000 were no longer eligible. ”

See: 5000 beneficiaries quit dole rather than reapply

Yet, at a time when we have a critical shortage of skilled workers in this country – especially tradespeople for the Christchurch re-build – National views those seeking welfare assistance as a liability.

This is about as short-sighted as a conservative, market-oriented government can get. It shows a lot about the narrow-sightedness of National’s ministers when, like a bank, they don’t see that 170,000 unemployed is an asset waiting to be upskilled; trained and supported into new careers.

Just imagine; 170,000 new builders, computer technicians, doctors, electricians, nurses, quantity-surveyors,  scientists, teachers, vets, etc. Imagine the economic growth this country would have if National viewed an army of 170,000 unemployed as an asset waiting to be tapped – rather than discouraged.

I can imagine it.

National evidently can’t. Not when they prefer to spend millions on 72 pages of bureacratic rubbish, which would put of a lot of people.

I wonder how much business a bank would get if they demanded that new clients fill out 72 pages of forms?

Not much,  I’d wager.

So why does the government do it?

Addendum

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Unemployment rate falls as more give up job hunt

Source

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This is the predictable consequence when a hands-off government does nothing to grow the economy and generate new jobs.

This is the predictable consequence when a government treats unemployed workers as a liability to be discouraged and labelled as ‘bludgers’ – rather than recognising the asset that they really are.

This is the predictable consequence of a National government.

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= fs =

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24 Comments

  1. Stephen says:

    Frank

    What a good comparison you show between applying for a mortgage through a bank and applying to get money from WINZ, I totally agree it is a long a drawn out process. What this shows us is that private industry in this case a bank is far more efficient than a government department. So what we should do is privatise this government service to reduce this horrible waste of taxpayers money i.e. the money government forcible takes out of my wallet and wastes on things that I don’t want, need or can provide for myself.

    Kind regards

    Steve

    • Or, Stephen, pay everyone a Universal Basic Income/Negative tax as mooted by Gareth Morgan and others and do away with the entire WINZ bureacracy. (Keeping on a few offices to cater for those with special needs.)

      The only downside is that this would throw thousands of WINZ staff out of work.

      But the point remains that the private sector seems more “efficient” – at least in the paperwork department.

      • michael kanara says:

        hey, don`t worry about those peoples working for WINZ, your idea of the universal basic income’ will take care of them, lol.

    • Molly says:

      “What this shows us is that private industry in this case a bank is far more efficient than a government department.”

      Yes, regarding form filling, but the point of the article is that the forms are not intended to be collection points for data, rather disincentives for application.

      So what we should do is privatise this government service to reduce this horrible waste of taxpayers money
      … was obvious that this was going to be a follow up to the previous sentence. Privatisation of public services may be more “efficient” in some measures, but usually provides little of the service in return.

      Efficiency and effectiveness are two different concepts.

      • fatty says:

        Well said Molly, the term ‘efficiency’ is troubling. Us human have been too efficient for our own good over the past 200 years, and it looks like it will cost us a planet.
        Under our current economic system, efficiency means little more than increased inequality.

  2. Very nice. When the current crop from the National caucus were in opposition, they pilloried the Labour-led government of the day, accusing them of juking the stats on the unemployment benefit, shifting the numbers of long-term unemployed over to the sickness benefit, hiding them away on to the invalids’ benefit to tidy up the numbers on the unemployment benefit and so forth. Debates over the stats-game aside (and whether a social-democratic government should be facing down calvinistic tory nonsense instead of standing up for the jobless), Labour at least made sure these people had an income.

    Now we see how the Nats go about it – bury the vulnerable in a morass of unecessarily complex, repetitive waste paper and wait for them to give up and slink off back to their poorly insulated rentals to agonise over whether they will become gainfully employed through drugs or prostitution to put food on the table and keep a leaky roof over their heads.

    Paula Bennett won’t stop until she has managed to turn West Auckland into West Baltimore.

    • When the current crop from the National caucus were in opposition, they pilloried the Labour-led government of the day, accusing them of juking the stats on the unemployment benefit, shifting the numbers of long-term unemployed over to the sickness benefit, hiding them away on to the invalids’ benefit to tidy up the numbers on the unemployment benefit and so forth.

      Indeed, yes, Jones. I must look up those statements from the Nats… will be very useful.

  3. By the way, if anyone wants to see the forms, please visit this related blogpost: http://fmacskasy.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/bill-english-when-numbers-dont-fit-or-just-jump-around/

    It’ll show you precisely what each form and brochure entails.

    The only thing missing is the WINZ-branded plastic bag which contained all 73 pages of documents (forms and brochures).

    The actual Unemployment Benefit Application is 30 pages in length. There are six other documents, making seven in total.

  4. Psycho Milt says:

    I wonder how much business a bank would get if they demanded that new clients fill out 72 pages of forms?

    Not much, I’d wager.

    I’m picking that no matter which party’s in government, they won’t be keen on measuring the performance of WINZ by how much new ‘business’ it generates.

    • I was wondering when you’d comment on this, Milt.

      Tell me, as a right winger, what’s your take on the State wasting a million dollars a year on all this paperwork, for essentially $206 a week (net) – when a bank like the ANZ relies on eight pages (4 double-sided) for mortgages amounting to hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars?

      • Fraser says:

        I am FAR from right-wing but I imagine the reply might be:
        – it was $1 million over 4 years
        – meaning $250 k per year ~ $5000 per week
        So only need to “discourage” 25 “bludgers” and the fascist experiment has paid off.
        Of course this line of thinking misses the point that those 25 “bludgers” represent REAL people, REAL families, and REAL lives – not iust entries on a balance sheet.

      • Psycho Milt says:

        I don’t know what a right-winger’s take on this would be, Frank. I expect it would be some old cobblers about this being an example of why the public sector is crap compared to the private sector – that seems to be a fairly typical one.

        However, I can think of a few reasons why WINZ is forking out big-time for paper forms and brochures. It certainly strikes me as likely that one of those reasons will be to discourage a proportion of eligible candidates from applying, thereby “improving” those all-important Key Performance Indicators for the people running WINZ; however, it’s also the case that as long as a proportion of your customers don’t have or won’t use online systems, you have to continue providing paper forms and brochures.

        That said, it’s misleading to compare benefit applications with mortgage applications. There are a couple of reasons:

        1. Mortgages are a rich source of profit for banks, which means banks are competing with each other for mortgage applicants, which means intense competition to impose the least inconvenience on applicants. There is no equivalent competition to impose the least inconvenience on benefit applicants.

        2. A mortgage sounds a much more impressive thing to apply for, with large sums of money involved – but it’s actually a much lower risk for the banks than signing up a beneficiary is for the government, because a mortgage applicant puts up a house as security.

  5. Michael says:

    WINZ’s policies are deliberately designed to impede people from obtaining welfare support for their basic needs when they are unable to provide it from their own resources. The main reason why so many people cannot meet their basic needs with their own resources is that our society is designed so that they cannot. Phenomena such as mass unemployment as a macroeconomic policy instrument; systemic discrimination on the grounds of disability, ethnicity, gender and family status; vastly increased criminalisation of poverty, are all to blame and none of them are accidental by products of the way we run our society. There are alternatives, of course, but they involve punctuirng middle-class comfort zones so they’re probably off the table.

    • Blue Leopard says:

      “The main reason why so many people cannot meet their basic needs with their own resources is that our society is designed so that they cannot.”

      I thoroughly agree.

      It is about time it was acknowledged that unemployment is being caused by inept Government policy.

      Blaming the victim, never has been, is not, nor ever will be anything other than a destructive excuse for not addressing the problem.

  6. Garry says:

    Perhaps they need the Paper Copies as a backup for there ever failing Computer Systems. (Novapay comes to mind). Always good to have a duplicate. Just a random thought.

  7. […] Our government isn’t just driving people off needed benefits.  It’s not just grinding them into the dirt and trying to chase them away with endless, pointless bureaucracy. […]

  8. David H says:

    Good article Frank. I did notice one omission, the horrendous amount of time one wastes in a winz office. Get an appointment for 10 am and you are there on time, only to be seen about 11-11 30 am. Then there is the time wasted, retelling for the umpteenth time your circumstances to the next stranger/case worker, then there’s the time wasted in filling out the 75 forms, and going to the interminable so called seminars. All to hear how to go out and piss off the already stressed bosses, who are sick and tired of wasting work time having to deal with dozens of poor souls jumping through even more hoops.

    • Indeed, David.

      I’ve supported folk who have applied for social welfare, and as well as the unbelievable paper work (which I’ve assisted the “client” to fill out) – the shonkey appointment system is also unacceptable.

      It all treats people applying for WINZ support as “cattle”.

      On the bonus side, those WINZ staff who we’ve dealth with (with one exception – and she was moved “upstairs”) have been understanding and supportive.

      One staffer in particular (who I shan’t name) took pains to ensure that the applicant was applying for every possible assistance, including a grant for new work boots (which he didn’t need, and politely declined). There was mutual respect on both sides and it’s a shame every New Zealander in the country couldn’t have watched the inter-change.

      But yes, I agree; the appointment system is shocking and more from the 1950s than the 21st Century.

  9. marc says:

    Thanks for this, Frank, but you forgot the forms one had to fill out for the former sickness benefit and former invalid’s benefit, and the Work Capacity Certificate already in use for over a year. There are new forms for the Jobseeker Support Payment and the Supported Living Payment benefits.

    I understand there are new form out now, which ask even more questions from doctors or other qualified health professionals, and the hoops one has to jump through are being held even higher now.

    Add to the Work Capacity Certificate needed from a medical practitioner (or similarly qualified health professional) the also now to be used self assessment form that they will expect sick and otherwise impaired to fill out (with most likely very loaded questions about people’s ability to do any kind of work or similar activities), further questionnaires and processes that sick and disabled will now have to complete and answer to and abide with.

    The onus is now on beneficiaries to prove they are too sick and unable to work. It is a bit like the police charging someone and then the accused having to prove her or his innocence before a court. So far the law is that the prosecution have to prove the guilt or responsibility of the accused. So re welfare it is a change of radical proportions and is what you would only find in dictatorships and police states.

    One psychologist I know did tell me not so long ago, that it will be near impossible for mentally ill to get onto the Supported Living Payment benefit in future.

    So doctors will also have to spend more time on filling out forms, and they are likely to get more patients come in for that, as WINZ will question client’s conditions, and send them back to their doctors. They will also involve their own “designated doctors” (most are basically “hatchet doctors” that MSD pay), who will send sick and disabled back with the recommendation to look for work.

    Outsourced service providers like Workbridge and Workwise will earn not tens of millions as already, they will earn hundreds of millions in future, and also they will come with contracts and forms to be completed and signed by WINZ clients.

    These reforms are nothing but a gigantic “stick”, and the bureaucracy and sheer madness in work capability expectations coming with it all will prove very costly.

    But the suicides and the ones driven out onto the street, being clients that cannot cope with it, will lead to some “savings” in welfare payments, perhaps “compensating” for the extra costs.

    Naturally Bennett and Co will present the better figures of less on the benefit to the media with glee in their faces.

    I am worried for many that will be badly affected, and especially mentally unstable need to be watched and supported by advocates, friends and family, as they may crack under all this.

  10. Psycho Milt says:

    The onus is now on beneficiaries to prove they are too sick and unable to work. It is a bit like the police charging someone and then the accused having to prove her or his innocence before a court. So far the law is that the prosecution have to prove the guilt or responsibility of the accused. So re welfare it is a change of radical proportions and is what you would only find in dictatorships and police states.

    Actually, it’s not a bit like an accused having to prove innocence before a court. It is in fact the opposite of that. If you apply for a social welfare benefit, the onus of proof is on you to show that you meet the criteria for receiving it. This is not a change, and is also not a feature of dictatorships and police states, but of every country that has a social welfare system.

    • marc says:

      Psycho Milt:

      Sick and incapacitated or impaired WINZ clients do present proof to case managers, and increasingly those case managers and their backroom staff in regional offices, being Regional Health Advisors and Regional Disability Advisors (mainly nurses, many not registered, some social workers, teachers and the likes with the odd additional “health study” certificate or diploma), are instructed to question medical certificates that such clients present in good faith.

      They then are sent to WINZ selected, trained and paid “designated doctors”, who in many cases are rather biased, and who in not too few cases basically recommend the clients get shifted to lower paid benefits and into work, even though they are seriously sick and impaired.

      Medical Appeal Boards are also appointed by the Ministry of Social Development, and at least 2 of 3 usual panel members are also WINZ trained designated doctors. Questions about their “independence” have long been raised. A decision by such an “appeal board” is final and binding.

      Only a judicial review is the remaining legal step a client can use, but only if the decision and process followed by an MAB raises questions of law.

      Who as an ordinary beneficiary who is sick and disabled, will have the strength, endurance and ability to pursue a grievance to that level though, as it will only really succeed with a lawyer representing her or him. That costs money, and legal aid that may be available, is hard to get, since it is even harder now to get such aid.

      So clients are up against a largely biased system, staffed by WINZ and MSD selected decision-makers, who are also often biased, who are now told to rigorously apply a new regime, where they are told to look at anything a client may hypothetically be able to do, and then of course will find, the person can do something, hence also do some “work”, even if there is no realistic job fitting such a person’s abilities.

      You have obviously little knowledge of the way WINZ work, so I cannot take your comment all that seriously.

      When client’s qualified and experienced own doctors are not believed by WINZ staff, how can that be viewed as just and fair processes, especially when they bring in their own ones, that overrule fact based medical findings?

    • Actually Milt, the cost to you and me, the taxpayer, on needless medical certificates demanded by WINZ would make your head spin.

      Case in point; a woman with spina bifida; confined to a wheelchair; with no hope of ever walking – has to provide a medical certificate to prove they haven’t been miraculously cured of the condition. (Spina bifida is permanent.)

      Imagine if every invalid in her situation, at $50 a throw, has to provide a certificate for no discernible gain.

      Now that’s waste.

  11. Glenn says:

    Nice to see these departments for what they are. Now on that note we can also add ACC into this equation as I was rail-roaded to one of there medical accessors whom agreed with my orthopaedic surgeon that another op could help me as i had an injection in the shoulder 2 days after seeing ACCs their so called independent Dr Blair Christian whom they got to come up from Wellington to the Hawke’s Bay to access me but then after agreeing with my Dr said i could do more than 30 hrs per week, yet could only do light to medium work but could not sustain light work for long periods, Oh how hypercritical is this more to the point a bias out look to favour his contract employer ACC ,. This intern gives ACC the ammo to throw people who they are meant to provide treatment and rehabilitation for in the best interest of the client out the window and over ride a surgeons medical stating the patient is not fit for any work. This is how ACC pays out to Drs and staff bonuses for the reduction of clients off their books to line their own pockets.. We are just a number to them not a human being who has a accident. Another government department showing the victim as the villain and for them to prove they unable regardless of medical opinion (surgeon)