“Kathryn’s Story” highlights the need for major welfare overhaul

By   /   July 2, 2016  /   29 Comments

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In August 2015 I sat through a whole day of hearing in the High Court on this sad case. What a convoluted sets of arguments were expounded to justify the punitive approach taken by the Crown. That was the latest court event in a 15 year saga in which an unwell beneficiary is being pursued for the repayment of $20 a week.

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In August 2015 I sat through a whole day of hearing in the High Court on this sad case. What a convoluted sets of arguments were expounded to justify the punitive approach taken by the Crown.  That was the latest court event in a 15 year saga in which an unwell beneficiary is being pursued for the repayment of $20 a week.

Her debt arose from an accusation by an ex-partner that she had been receiving the Domestic Purposes Benefit over five years in the 1990s, alleging she was with him. She has always denied she was in a relationship in the nature of marriage in that period.

Unlike so many others who are told to plead guilty and show remorse to secure a lighter sentence, she refused to take that path and spent 6 months in prison even though she had a five year-old at the time. Her family have suffered enormously and unjustly.

A prison sentence was not enough for the MSD who have insisted she still owes them $117,000.

The costs to government let alone society to date have been huge. Some of the monetary costs are the Crown Law outlay of $85,000 for the last 15 years of Civil proceedings for debt recovery, the $11,000 for the costs of criminal prosecution before that, and an estimated $50,000 for the incarceration.

Barrister and journalist Catriona MacLellan is the author of Kathryn’s Story: How the Government spent well over $100,000 and 15 years pursuing a chronically-ill beneficiary mother for a debt she should not have

Kathryn’s Story is intended to inform and educate those in positions of power about the contexts of the lives of many defenceless women who may fall foul of the system used to establish relationship fraud

The case study also draws attention to the punitive approach to reparations that apply in the welfare system. Kathryn’s treatment is in sharp contrast to that for white collar tax evasion, which has been well documented by Lisa Marriott in recent Victoria University research.

Kathryn’s Story builds on CPAG’s work around relationship status as defined in the welfare system, in the 2014 report The complexities of “relationship” in the welfare system and the consequences for children.

CPAG is calling for a broad review of the use of a ‘couple’ as the unit for determining welfare support, as well as a major shift in attitude towards beneficiaries and sole parents by policy makers, so that relationship fraud convictions of sole parents become a thing of the past.

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About the author

Co-director retirement policy and Research Centre, CPAG management committee

29 Comments

  1. gastarbeiter says:

    I attended the court in Auckland last year to hear this case and hadn’t heard the outcome. I am dismayed to learn that Justice Faire dismissed Kathryn’s appeal

    • Susan says:

      He dismissed the appeal and sent the issue back to the Ministry of Social Development who have said they would reclaim the full debt from her which puts her back to square one. He could have decided that it was all a total farce and wiped her debt. She will now try to appeal his decision

  2. Danyl Strype says:

    Kathryn’s story is another heartbreaking example of this government’s policy of scapegoating and persecuting the most vulnerable people in our society; beneficiaries, the homeless, and immigrants and refugees. It’s all the most disgusting that at the same time they have presided over a massive shift of wealth to the richest 10%, and they’re still talking about tax cuts, which disproportionately benefit the wealthy!?! Truly, the sociopaths have taken control of the country, and even more disturbing, most of the mass media (Waatea 5th Estate did an excellent show on that recently). As Charles Derber said in an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter about his 2013 book ‘Sociopathic Society’:

    “This is the dilemma that the sociopathic society creates. The people may not be psychologically disposed to be anti-social, to the environment and to other people. But in order to function within the system they have to hook up with sociopathic institutions and carry out behavior that is destructive and anti-social.”

    “Are they sociopaths? Their behavior contributes to sociopathic ends. But their motives are not necessarily sociopathic. The institution’s DNA is driven by sociopathic imperatives.”

    “Virtually all work in the United States involves association and capitulation to sociopathic companies and rules. And it becomes normalized in sociopathic society.”
    http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/news/200/charles-derber-sociopathic-society/

    • john says:

      This woman was first convicted in 2001. Who was the government then?

      • Lara says:

        Doesn’t really matter John.

        NZ has had far right neoliberal governments since 1984. Policy and economic management has been neoliberal since that date.

        ACT, the most far right of all, was after all born from Labour. Not National.

        Labour is just National Lite.

      • Words says:

        This persecution started in the 1990’s actually. Who was the government then? IMO BOTH governments and a archaic draconian legal system are to blame. How many other Kathryn’s are out there?

  3. Towanda! says:

    I’ve read about half of the “Kathryn’s Story” pdf – how about starting a “Give a little” page?
    I’m so disgusted by this case. Something’s extremely wrong with the way “social welfare” is administered in NZ. You’re basically on a slippery slope to being criminalised by the state when on a benefit – there are so many ways to fall foul of their rules.

    • kappanz says:

      Good idea, give-a-little. But also I’d like to see what the actual MSD debt is claimed to be nationally, compared to the MASSIVE amount of lost tax payment through tax avoidance by the rich and corporates over those 15 years!!! And I mean cheating by all the super rich, Sanitarium, churches of low repute, Google and tax haven (off shore this time) hidden evasion!

  4. Kim dandy says:

    I caught the end of an interview on the radio recently – I don’t know who the interviewed was but he made the comment that at present we have a society in New Zealand that attacks ‘the powerless’ instead of attacking those ‘in power.’
    He went to say that it is a dangerous place for a society to be.
    He’s spot on. It needs to change.

  5. Lara says:

    More demonising of women and children.

    For poor families if they have children then middle NZ cries they shouldn’t have been born. Which is no solution at all fro children who exist.

    For women living with abusive partners “why doesn’t she just leave” and when she does she’s just another “beneficiary bludger” with children who shouldn’t have been born.

    And if she needs financial assistance in the form of a benefit then WINZ follow and watch her closely, assuming she’ll break their rules and insisting she not start up a relationship with any other man or else she’ll lose any state support.

  6. Andrew says:

    Slutty women who produce children out of wedlock ruin the lives of their progeny.

    They just perpetuate a cycle of more solo mums and another generation gang members.

    DPB originally had good intentions and there still is a place for it, but it has produced a generation of psychologically damaged, fatherless children with consequent subsequent criminality, mental health problems and societal impact.

    [I’m not sure how your comment got through moderation, Andrew, but I’m offering you one helpful piece of advice. If you use the phrase “slut” again in a derogatory way, I will ban your butt so fast it’ll be a blur. In fact, if I read anything else from you tonight that pisses me off, I might do it anyway. – ScarletMod]

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      What a nasty and ill informed comment, so judgmental and generalising.

    • Andrea says:

      If women are ‘slutty’ – what do you call the licentious unmanaged street-crawling bits of trash who foisted sperm on them?

      Eh?

      Or are they all ‘virgin births’?

      Don’t bother flouncing – blokes are definitely half the problem. Pity is that too many slither off or batter their way to ‘freedom’.

    • Andrew, congratulations. That has to be the vilest comment from you yet. I don’t know if you’re trolling us to get a reaction, or if Whaleoil has had a gutsful of you; told you to piss off, and here you are…

      If you are trolling, you’re a sad prick.

      If you’re a mis-guided right-winger, you should consider that solo-mothers are the ones picking up the responsibility for caring for the children whilst the fathers are (generally) nowhere to be seen.

      In effect, you’re deriding the people who are fulfilling their obligations whilst ignoring the fathers/sperm-donors who’ve shot through.

      The right-wing dogma of taking personal responsibility – and you’re over-looking it in your rush to moralistic judgement.

      Not very rational of you, is it?

      But regardless; one other thing I’ve noticed is your pre-occupation/obsession with reproduction, sex, and women. Have you had counselling for that?

      Because, mate, you really really it. Honestly. You are misogynistic to put it mildly.

    • Andrew says:

      Moderator: I’ve been called far worse things in this blog!

      So let’s not be precious eh? 😉

      [Andrew, your posting privileges are rescinded for one week. Do not attempt to post anything further until 11PM next Sunday. -ScarletMod]

      • ALH84001 says:

        You’re a nasty, vindictive, judgemental foolish little man, Andrew. I was a solo-mum myself with three kids after my then-husband decided that married life wasn’t for him and he took a fancy to our neighbour’s 17 year old daughter. He got her pregnant to. Then he disappeared, last heard of in Brazil.

        We’re the women who look after our children when you men do a runner and you have the gall to call us nasty names? You’re a shameful excuse for a human being, Andrew, and I thank God that not all men are like you.

        Gina Halley (using my partner’s log-in)

      • Words says:

        Andrew should be banned for a lot longer than that.

    • Karyn Stewart says:

      Honestly Andrew, I fear for the “production” of any children that might call you “father” given your obviously very low IQ…where might these children produced out of wedlock arise from? Can we really have that many ‘virgin’ births? Why is wedlock used as a measure of ruin? And why might the children (or as you say “progeny”) of these ‘virgin’ births go on to produce ‘gang members’ (is this a euphenism for apostles?). I would love to hear how a ‘theory/economic practice’ (perhaps praxis) like the DPB ‘produces’ psychologically damaged children? Was it the ‘virgin’ birth? I think it must be since these PDC (acronyms are great) are fatherless. Its good to acknowledge though that these ‘virgin’ birthed children will have a societal impact…just like Jesus; ‘Hail Mary, full of grace…blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb…’

    • Jane B says:

      What a nasty, ill-formed person you are, Andrew. Your judgementalism and misogyny marks you as someone with deep issues surrounding women.

      My mother raised us single-handedly and did an amazing job. No thanks to an alcoholic husband-father who would beat her every Friday and Saturday nights after having been a binge drinker since I can remember. She finally got rid of him only after she caught him trying to get in bed with me. We’ve not seen him since and we don’t want to. So when you call women “sluts”, they are the ones who do the work by themselves because some men can’t keep it in their pants, or can’t handle the booze, or use their fists too freely.

      I hope you come back as a woman in the next life, Andrew.

    • Words says:

      You are a nasty piece of shit Andrew. what a disgusting vile creature you are.

      This creep should be banned permanently, and have to ask, why hasn’t he?

    • Sally's Husband says:

      You’re a nasty piece of work, Andrew.

  7. Suzie J says:

    The only person showing their lack of class is Andrew, who frequents this website to attack people who are financially struggling, and attack women too…

    maybe he should take a good look at himself, because from that comment he has made, there is nothing there that shows he has any insight into how hurtful his behaviour is. Or maybe he does, which is even worse.

  8. Justme says:

    This woman was pursued and harrassed by a government department for a measly $117,000(so MSD claims). And yet why are the IRD not pursuing the obvious tax evasions that measure into the hundreds of millions by multi-corporates here in NZ?
    Oh right that’s the answer. Pick on the small fry(ordinary NZers)whilst letting the big fish(the multi-corporates)get away with daily daylight robbery.
    Obciously the law for NZers do not apply to small NZers. In other words there are one set of laws for the big fish and a more harsher set of laws for the little people of NZ.

  9. save nz says:

    No wonder we have one of the highest family violence in the world when the welfare and the legal system imprison women for this type of crime when she had a 5 year old daughter who had to go into care! Shocking.

    This is from the country where women first got the vote! Rights of vulnerable women and children in the 21st century NZ are shocking.

    How can she get a job with a prison record! What about the poor child now traumatised?

    DBP recipients should be able to be in a relationship – it should only be if the spouse is supporting then it is considered a relationship and the benefit cut.

  10. Words says:

    My god this is outrageous to the extreme, and so wrong on so many levels I’m gobsmacked !!

    The state have already had their pound of flesh by unjustly imprisoning this woman and hurting her family, she owes them nothing, but the state owes her imho for what it has done to her and her children. And to continue to persecute and harass this woman for money she doesn’t owe for years and years is completely incomprehensible. What the hell is wrong with the justice system? Lobby all the opposition parties to put an end to this senseless punitive persecution of a very vulnerable person and change the rules and laws that have allowed this monstrous treatment. How many Kathryn’s are there out there? Shame on all the governments, on all of us that this has been allowed to happen. The NZ government and legal systems need to grow a heart, a brain, and loads of common sense.

  11. Sally's Husband says:

    God help us if Andrew works for WINZ!!



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