Bureaucratic Torture: It’s Time to Get Angry About This Government’s Welfare Policies.

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I’VE JUST READ Sarah Wilson’s blogpost and I’m angry. Not angry like I get when I spill my coffee, but angry in that deep place way down in my gut that’s somehow connected to the back of my throat and my tear ducts. Angry as in slowly shaking my head. Angry as in quietly muttering “un-fucking-believable!” That sort of angry.

Every other day, I walk past the local WINZ office on my way to the supermarket and marvel at the cold, plate-glass transparency of it all. The layout is radically open-plan. Client and caseworker can be seen and heard by everybody else in the office. Such blatant denial of personal privacy can only be deliberate – a psychological stratagem designed to increase the client’s sense of vulnerability. No doubt it is also highly effective at keeping his or her voice as low as possible.

Indeed, that’s what people notice about these sprawling WINZ offices – the near silence that envelopes them. People murmur, people sob, but people hardly ever shout. To do so would not only draw the attention of senior WINZ staff, but it would also attract the interest of the security guards that pace backwards and forwards across the front of every WINZ office like bored big cats – just waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

The security guards are a post-Jenny Shipley addition to the WINZ experience. In the gentler, kinder New Zealand that preceded the neoliberal revolution of the 1980s and 90s there was no need for that kind of very public muscle to be instantly available. Back in the days when the Department of Social Welfare provided its staff with offices and its clients with privacy and support there was little reason to fear for the safety of either group.

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In fact, the presence of those security guards speaks volumes about the bad faith of the entire WINZ bureaucracy.

The provision of monetary assistance to citizens in need remains the core function of the Ministry of Social Development, even if generations of “reformers” (National’s and Labour’s) have struggled tirelessly to obscure it. They now interpret the MSD’s primary mission as reducing the numbers “dependent” on welfare benefits to the absolute minimum. They’ve convinced themselves that paid work, and paid work alone, can break their clients’ welfare “addiction”. They’ve trained themselves to treat every welfare payment as the equivalent of a junkie’s “fix”. Anything they can do to wean their clients off the welfare “drug” is, by definition, “a good thing”. And if that means forcing them to go “Cold Turkey”, well then, so be it.

Cold Turkey – as Sarah Wilson describes it – involves the deliberate bureaucratic harassment of clients to the point where it seems easier to give up on the idea of asking for a benefit than to go on. Refusing to respond to calls, deliberately losing vital documents that they, as the client’s caseworker, insisted be gathered, and blatantly ignoring the advice and clinical recommendations of trained health professionals – all of these tactics appear to be in play within the WINZ bureaucracy.

Hence those security guards. Because at some level of their consciousness WINZ’s caseworkers must know that the people they are dealing with are too ill or too disabled to engage in paid work – even if a job appropriate to their skills and training was available.  With some part of their intellect they must understand that, statistically, what they are demanding is an impossibility: that the all-liberating, all-rehabilitating paid employment they are constantly promoting to their clients simply does not exist. And that means that the tactics they are employing to “wean” their “dependent” clients off their benefit “drug” are nothing less than torture – and the deliberate imposition of suffering is always enforced with “muscle”. In WINZ’s open-plan torture-chambers fighting back is not an option.

Which means that Sarah, and people like her, need us to do the fighting for them. And the best way to do that is to serve notice on the WINZ bureaucracy that it will not be able to hide behind the Nuremburg defence (“I was only following orders.”) for very much longer. The deliberate infliction of pain and humiliation is never justifiable and it is simply not acceptable for public servants to be asked to torture their fellow citizens until they give up attempting to access support payments to which they are legally and morally entitled.

We should also serve notice on the two Paulas – Bennett and Rebstock – that in the event of a change of government a full-scale inquiry will be demanded into WINZ’s policies of emotional bullying and bureaucratic harassment: policies for which they, more than any others, are responsible.

The PSA needs to take the lead here. There must be no “our members are just doing their jobs” nonsense. If a public servant’s job entails treating people the way Sarah was treated, then it is the duty of the public servants’ union to protect its members from the moral contamination that doing such a job necessarily entails.

Labour, too, must be ready to confess its sins in relation to the welfare policies its past ministers have been only too willing to connive in promoting and implementing. David Cunliffe’s Labour-Green government must range itself unashamedly on the side of Sarah and all those other hurting and humiliated New Zealanders who have been so shockingly abused by WINZ and its political enablers.

I cannot, however, end this post without congratulating Sarah for having the courage to tell the truth and shame the bureaucratic devils who have been tormenting her. I also want to thank her for opening my eyes, for touching my heart and – most of all – for making me angry.

78 COMMENTS

  1. I have been Tortured by Winz. I was a sickness beneficiary who has a medical certificate saying I am not capable of working more than 16 hours a week. Winz ignored that an put me onto one of their training courses that was 25 hours a week. This caused me to suffer pain as I was cramped up in a classroom environment for this training. My pain made me interiable and as a result I was bullied and humiliated by the course organiser. I am not upset at doing a training course but am upset that I was put into a training course that was beyond my physical abilities. A 16 hour a week course would have been much more productive.
    I asked winz about the hours before the course started and was told that it’s all they had and if I didn’t attend then I would not get the benefit (food, power a place to live).
    I don’t think I am the only sickness beneficiary that has been forced into these tortures training programs. I even wrote to my mp to ask if this was fair and she wrote to the Minister who sent back a letter that said, what had happened to me was not what is happening, like she was unaware that her frontline staff where not doing what she thought they were. I followed up with a meeting with the manager of my winz office and he could not see what the problem was and when asked for an apology he laughed at me. I found the whole thing very depressing and have since been moved to an invalid benefit (or what ever that brand it now).

    • Yes, I have heard such stories before, and it disgusting. It is actually a way of “tricking” you into co-operating by doing a training course that takes 25 hours a week to attend, and afterwards they can then claim, hey, you attended a 25-hour course, so you can also do 25 hours of work.

      And some have raised issues about this, but the only way to go about it is – to first ask for a review of decision, or to be able to appeal against a medical based decision (which you should have done) by perhaps going to a Medical Appeal Board Hearing. Yes, you should have taken such action, at least tried, as anything you comply with after a wrong decision by WINZ, that goes against you and your medical records.

      The Medical Appeal Boards are usually a panel of three, of whom at least two are “designated doctors” (trained by MSD), and they are all appointed by a coordinator employed by MSD or WINZ. So even their decision may go against clients. But there may be chance to get a favourable recommendation. After that may fail, most are “stuffed”, as there is no further appeal, just the chance of going for judicial review at the High Court (not easy), only if there were “questions of law” in a decision by a MAB.

      Somebody I know complained about a designated doctor to the Health and Disability Commissioner some time ago, but that was not successful, as they do not really want to deal with such “assessments”.

      Read the following for some further info:
      http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15463-designated-doctors-%e2%80%93-used-by-work-and-income-some-also-used-by-acc/

      http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/14923-health-and-disability-commissioner/

      http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/13301-what-to-do-if-you-are-required-to-see-a-winz-designated-doctor/

      • Here’s a creepy factoid for you Mark…

        The registered health practitioners on the MAB aren’t necessarily acting within their scope of practice. For example a podiatrist (who is a doctor) may be deciding the fate of someone with a mental disorder. Fair? Well of course it isn’t!

        Neither is the fact that the MAB doesn’t have to be sent the file notes from your own doctor. In other words they have no medical jurisdiction to make the call they do, and no supporting evidence. Too bad if you are the client and fail to bring your notes for the last ten years proving beyond doubt you qualify for a Supported Living Payment.

        MAB’s can only be overturned by judicial review. Yeah, good luck with getting someone in today’s environment to act for you if you are unlucky enough to have this happen to you – and believe me it happens ALL THE TIME.

        • Z – I full well know exactly what you are talking about! I know someone who went for judicial review, and he still has MSD at his mercy now, challenging them on stuff that the public do not know much about.

          Yes, it is totally unfair, a perversion of justice, but the fact that they use “health professionals” on the MAB that have no competency for the conditions the appellant may suffer from, that is not a new “discovery”. It has happened again and again, and it must be challenged, and it can be challenged. It starts with challenging the Coordinator with the appointment of the panel members of the MAB, and then, if they pursue it disregarding, go for judicial review.

          You do not need a lawyer to represent you, but of course it helps. I know most will be stuffed, as they can never cope with this, but this is shit that you and others must hammer your damned MP and Labour and Green Party members with, also Mana, if they continue to exist.

          It is a duty to take this to the damned politicians, and if they do not listen, expose the bastards, and this website and forum, same as the Standard, are places where this must bloody happen. Name and shame your damned MP or party contact, if they do NOT bother to raise the issues that must be raised.

          I have done it in the past, so should others, they are no damned “saints”. We need a law change, a true reform of the Social Security Act, and it must be FAIR and REASONABLE and do away with much of the shit we get.

          There lies the challenge, and I continue to expose FUCKING LABOUR day in and out for their damned betrayal of beneficiaries, starting in 2007 with also appointing GP Nazi Principal Health Advisor Dr Bratt (“google” his name please)!

        • Z – what you are stating here proves that MSD and WINZ are total liars, breakers of natural justice and other law day in and out, and I know this, as a “settlement” a friend of mine got out of them was achieved only, while they made some “promises” (not in writing of course), that such things would in future be “remedied”, which has of course NEVER happened.

          So all reading here, rest assured, the ONES at the top of MSD and WINZ, they have a totally dim shit view of your needs, they will follow their damned regime (now also including UK type assessment and other methods) DISREGARDING. You will be an IDIOT, if you trust MSD and WINZ, as they are totally untrustworthy, and I have hundreds of files that can prove this!

  2. Just implement a UBI of $25,000 for every NZ Citizen (not resident) and the savings in not having a plethora of Dehumanize and Belittle NZ offices and workers scrapped would more than cover the cost.

    What? We can’t make those people unemployed? Of course not, but with a UBI they will at least have some solace in being on the other side, but with an income sufficient to sustain their living costs.

    UBI – sustainable, fair and transparent. That’ll drastically reduce the cries of poverty, eliminate the working for families bollocks, and ensure that every citizen has at least enough to cover the extreme basics.

    There will always be the emergency assistance type of welfare, but going from 12k per year + applying for non stop additional support, to a set rate of 25k pa will certainly alleviate the issues Wilson talks about.

    • You assume too much. For that to happen there would have to be an overhaul of the entire welfare system which has only just been overhauled at a very high cost not just in money but in the spirits of both staff and clients.

  3. Chris, that is a very biased and ignorant opinion.
    Even ‘public servants’ need protection too!
    They are dealing with vulnerable people on a daily basis. And a security guard is there for everyone’s protection… I’m sure there are really bad incidents all the time. What you wrote is utter garbage. And it’s ‘Work and Income’ not Winz..

    • Call it what you like it is a tragic dehumanizing place.

      A lot of what Chris has said is absolutely correct and I know because I had two solid years of the treatment after I lost my job post quake.

      I didn’t ever feel the need for a security guard when I went there. The worst thing is watching the middle aged women who are harassed regularly to the point of tears… They really seem to have it in for this group.

      Also I talked to and listened to what the other clients had to say while waiting. Very interesting stuff and often very sad.

      However I don’t agree that the staff at WINZ ( Work and Income, DSW, Welfare) should be victimized for doing their (revolting) job. They live in fear already because they know exactly what happens if you lose your employment and fall into the clutches of WINZ.

      Change must come from the top Paula Bennett and the people in MSD HQ are the only people who can stop this cruelty.

      They need to be gone now!

      • You won’t get change from Bennett, and I’d refuse holding Winz staff to account being labeled ‘victimizing’.

        As Chris says above, “the PSA needs to take the lead here. There must be no “our members are just doing their jobs” nonsense …”

        No, it’s not only the person giving the order, it’s also the person executing the order causing the misery.

        • About a year ago, WINZ had to let a few staff go. The impression I got was that it was the “lowest performers” who were given the boot… you know, all the people with who lacked meanness.

    • “Annon”

      I’ve spent a considerable amount of time at WINZ – sometimes for my needs, sometimes for the needs of my very disabled sibling and other times to deal with my parent’s pension…. Yes, due to WINZ becoming a one-stop-shop of misery, all ages, circumstances and abilities have been lumped together under the same roof.

      Not once have I seen a person lose the plot in outward anger. I’ve seen a number of people politely crying. I’ve cried in WINZ…. feeling defeated by a system designed to trap and fail people. A system which goes out of its way to stop people from moving forward… A system (see: people) who view proactive, intelligent “clients” as a threat to their own job security.

      I’ve probably been in Upper Hutt’s (sprawling) office more than most people. Their security guard sits at his little desk at the entrance, looking like an extra from Shaun of the Dead….. Poor guy has nothing to do, but is probably glad to have a job – because WINZ.

      Speaking of sprawling, I remember when WINZ was called Social Welfare. They had one tiny office here in Upper Hutt (up a flight of stairs) and two women who dealt with everything. They got the job done (with no farcical appointments or hoop jumping necessary).

      The fact the office was not accessible to disabled people was not an issue, as sick / disabled people weren’t required to come and prove their disability. That was between their doctor, a few forms and a family member or someone willing to run up the flight of stairs and literally throw said forms to the happy ladies behind the desk. Job done.

      Elderly had their own little office – that didn’t imply they were bludgers. Nice, simple times.

      Now WINZ has ever expanding offices, more staff than ever before. Less service. No privacy, despite talking more about privacy than ever before. No compassion. MOAR money. It’s become a beast of a corporation.

      It’s sick.

      • One of my cousins was born with spina bifida and she is confined to a wheelchair. Her condition will never change, and never improve. She was born with it and will die with it.

        WINZ, though, has other ideas and she is required to produce a medical certificate every year to prove she still has spina bifida. This causes her stress and is an extra cost she could do without. Not just the doctor’s fee but also a taxi (she doesn’t/can’t drive) on top. Does WINZ reimburse her?

        Not on your nellie.

        I didn’t know WINZ believes in miracles because that it what it will take for my cousin to wake up one morning and walk.

    • I wonder, Annon, have you ever had the pleasure of applying for a benefit? Have you ever had to endure the process? Have you been out of work lately, and had to look for a job? I am blessedly fortunate to have a job in this country, and the work I do is in supporting those who are unemployed. I have heard the stories of humiliation and the dehumanising experiences that people are put through. I see the courage and the perseverance in the face of daily, constant knock-backs. And I see the slow build of anger and resentment that seethes below the surface. Trotter’s point is that the “system” is broken.

    • Annon, It’s WINZ, wankers intimidating NZers, they have dont have any work for people that want better incomes!!!
      WINZ spent millions trying to re brand, but they are the same corporation that have been denying entitlements for years and its getting worse.
      They wouldn’t need security, if they treated people fairly and with respect.
      And if they do need security, then hire real people as employees, dont contract more corporations at $30+ and hour and pay the guard minimum wage so some fat cat CEO john keys type can get richer while the rest of us struggle to feed our kids.
      They will always be WINZ until they provide work and income in a fair, un-humiliating compassionate way.

      • And if they do need security, then hire real people as employees, dont contract more corporations at $30+ and hour and pay the guard minimum wage so some fat cat CEO john keys type can get richer while the rest of us struggle to feed our kids.

        QFT

        And that is where the dead-weight loss is in our society. The over paid CEOs and the shareholders.

    • Annon – “I’m sure there are really bad incidents all the time.” could you please list all these incidents as evidence to support your claim.

      I’ve never seen it and not heard about it in the press – you’d think if they happened “all the time” we’d definitely hear about it, after all the press love a good benefit bashing

      • Yeah, because the mainstream media are so balanced and unbiased, and don’t play into mainstream stereotypes. They’re so ready to publish stories which defy the mainstream stereotype of “beneficiary bludger”

        Oh wait…

    • To qualify for protection, public servants should remember the bit about service. Annon sounds like a union bureaucrat who would line up to represent torturing screws or rapist poaka, on the basis that they were public employees. Nah, let them do something of service before they qualify. If they treat our people like shit, they deserve it back in spades.

  4. Yes this makes me angry – and the comments from horrendous members of our community who write in support of Paula Bennett on a few websites I’ve just read take me past anger and seem to depress me to the point of paralysis.

    The frenzy of benefit bashing that this country indulges is a dark period in our history. I don’t know whether it’s the appalling lack of compassion I witness, the complete lack of understanding of how the welfare budget affects the economy or the childish “they’re getting my tax money” that gets to me the most.

    Actually no, it’s the fact that beneficiries are being made to look for work when everyone knows that there aren’t enough jobs out there to employ them all. For the government to do this when they have it in their power to actually create jobs is the very definition of abusive behavior. It’s evil.

    • What I find most depressing is the way history repeats. I was on a benefit through the 90s, under Bolger’s National government, and the beneficiary-bashing was just as bad in the media, although the actual treatment of beneficiaries never got quite as bad as it has under Paula Bennett (no drug testing of beneficiaries in the 90s).

      Back then I lived in Otautahi. A few of us formed a Beneficiary Action Collective, and presented a ‘Bastard of the Month Award’ to whichever social welfare office had most grievously mistreated people that month. We’d turn up with a giant cardboard certificate, occupy the office, and read out the list of crimes which had earned them that month’s award. We understood that staff were almost as terrorized by the system as beneficiaries (bonuses for offices which kept their payment budget under a certain level, and harassment of staff who were “too nice”), and we’d refuse to leave until the Manager came out to accept the “Award”, holding management accountable for the whole deplorable situation.

      I’ve been surviving without a benefit, and with no regular income, since Occupy. I totally endorse the comment above about Universal Basic Income.

  5. Annon you’ve hit it on the nail – VULNERABLE. It is the Work & Income clients (yes we all still call it WINZ – the irony doesn’t escape those who LOSE out) who are vulnerable, not the staff. WINZ staff have all the power – many abuse that power – and it takes courage and an awareness of one’s rights and entitlements to stand up to them. Not everyone can manage this and it is no wonder that many clients become distressed and angry.

  6. I spoke to Jacinda Ardern a while back about Labour’s welfare policy if they should get in and it didn’t seem much different from Nationals. They intend on keeping the sanctions and all.
    I would trust a Green govt much more to keep w&i clients safe.
    Anon – you haven’t spent any time at all in a winz office as a client have you? Humiliation and torment is all part of the package when you sign up for a benefit in NZ.

  7. Completely agree Chris, Annon I think the key point I would say to challenge your comment above was if Paula Benefits system was more compassionate in the first place your winz staff member would not need protection of a guard…

  8. Chris, this is perhaps your finest piece yet.

    I sincerely hope that David Cunliffe reads it, and acts on it.

    The abomination that WINZ has become cannot be permitted to carry on, and those at the top should be sacked on Day One of a new government taking office. (I’d be happy to be appointed Rebstock’s “case manager”. I will even bring my own Taser to meetings with my “client”.)

    In case someone wants a glimpse into the bureacratic nightmare that WINZ has become, I present for their edification, 72 items of Mad Hatterish nonsense; http://fmacskasy.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/winz-waste-and-wonky-numbers/

    And this from a government supposedly cracking down on bureacratic waste.

    • I followed your link.

      There is unfortunately a wonky number of your own. You state that the WINZ income is $204 net. That is actually the gross.
      Mine works out to $171 net after paying about $31 tax. (all rounded off)

      I’m not trying to be fussy here but once these figures get locked in to peoples heads it is difficult to change them.

      • The net married rate is $171. The net single over 25 rate is $206.
        Once again the welfare system is assuming that you can define what a couple is and that they can exisit on less per person than two single people.

        Moreover if ‘married’ they have a joint income test

  9. I think the open plan offices at WINZ are a mechanisim to intimidate WINZ staff into not treating people with dignity. I have the misfortune to be on the “Supported Living” benefit as well as working 16 hours in a semi professional occupation and I still get nervous at review time. Im still waiting 5 weeks later for a confirmation letter, although I have had one telling me I hadn’t returned the disability form which I had and my allowance would stop. This is the third year in a row that I haven’t “returned” some form or another. While minor compared to others such as Sarah Wilson’s experience, its a pain having to ring each time.

  10. The worst inditement of the corruption of social welfare delivery in new Zealand is the suicide rate. When it is twice the road toll, as it became in the ’90s under the black decade of Gnat oppression, the government has very serious questions to answer. The Clark Labour government chose not to ask those questions. So now we have Paula Bennett celebrating her own secular rite of human sacrifice…

    This is not the kind of aspirational society I’m looking for.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQYsGWh_vpE

    • Stuart, Waiting on new data, but last years figures show suicide of unemployed had dropped and that was 1 year after the harsh benefit changes made by National. I don’t think it will continue to drop but will have to wait for this years data from the coroner’s office.

      • NZ has a major problem with such stats – we’re too small and so the incidences of some rare actions (murder, suicide come to mind) jump up and down year to year. What this means in effect is that year to year stats on them are meaningless and even the trend lines are iffy.

      • Given that many unemployed are neither receiving a benefit or working, I don’t think they can accurately count of the number of jobless killing themselves.

        I know this as I’ve spent considerable periods of time outside “the system”, but also not working…. only getting by through having my basic needs met by family.

        The last time was 5-6 months without income from any source. Meaning I was one of the people included in Paula’s faux “gone back to work” statistics… Only I hadn’t.

  11. This is a welcome, timely, overdue post by Chris, and I congratulate him for taking the initiative, to voice his anger about what happened to Sarah Wilson, who is herself making clear “This is not my story”:

    http://writehanded.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/this-is-not-my-story/
    http://writehanded.wordpress.com/

    The public outcry by other affected and those having sympathy for the story Sarah wrote about her experiences with WINZ, and the many comments by others, they are well justified. Most are very emotive and express strongest support, but sadly there were also some nasty comments, where some people simply do not believe her, yes suggest she may be exaggerating about her illness, pretending, and thus be a kind of “malingerer”.

    What is very important though is, that we must look at what is behind it all. It is not just a fact that many WINZ staff fail to do a good enough job, lose documents, leave clients wait too long, do not answer phone calls, while being over-worked, or even somehow biased against their clientele. There is MORE to it, and what is happening is not at all surprising.

    This is at least in part happening, because people like Sarah, and others suffering sickness and disability, are not trusted, full stop. They are perhaps not visibly sick and disabled, so all that proves their conditions are medical assessments and certificates.

    MSD has abolished the old style certificates and replaced them with “Work Capacity Medical Certificates”. Since already Future Focus reforms, the emphasis is now on a “relentless focus on work” (Paula Bennett), and since last year, WINZ are re-assessing many sick and disabled, now apparently even with outsourced, private assessors being used.

    Their (WINZ’s) “designated doctors” have been trained by a Principal Health Advisor Dr David Bratt, who has fully adopted UK welfare reform ideas, and he goes as far as likening benefit dependence to “drug dependence”. In the UK a Professor Mansel Aylward and a “research institute” financed by a US corporate disability insurer, were used to justify an attack on sick and disabled, under the pretense, it is all about “help” and “enabling”. In truth it is more about cost cutting, and little else. Many in the UK were wrongly assessed and some took their lives, not coping with all.

    The adoption of the motto and approach that they now look at “what people can do, rather than what they cannot”, is leading to the harsh, unsympathetic treatment many now get at WINZ. Staff are expected to follow new rules, even if they may dislike them.

    The following reveals what AGENDA is behind the whole “reforms”, which now pushes people like Sarah to the brink. I hope she does get honest support from Maryan Street, her Labour MP, but I ask, why has Labour so far been so damned silent on all this? Is it, because under their last term in government MSD hired Dr Bratt, and that they have had a similar agenda?

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15463-designated-doctors-%e2%80%93-used-by-work-and-income-some-also-used-by-acc/

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15188-medical-and-work-capability-assessments-based-on-the-bps-model-aimed-at-disentiteling-affected-from-welfare-benefits-and-acc-compo/

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15264-welfare-reform-the-health-and-disability-panel-msd-the-truth-behind-the-agenda/

    Those that bother reading and studying that info under those links, they will understand, what is going on, and why we have this mess! So we are waiting for Labour to take a clear stand against all this, and to commit that they will see to it, that such “agendas” will be abandoned should they get into government after 20 September!

    • So we are waiting for Labour to take a clear stand against all this, and to commit that they will see to it, that such “agendas” will be abandoned should they get into government after 20 September!

      I’m not holding my breath. In fact, I’m certain that Labour will do exactly the same as what they did last time to alleviate the stress of those in poverty – nothing.

      • On the one hand Labour did not raise the benefits after National’s 1990s cuts. Nor did they ever raise the pitiful amount one could earn before enduring a benefit reduction.

        On the other hand, somehow the miasmic fear that hung over beneficiaries eased markedly when Steve Maharey arrived. Fewer papers went missing, for one thing. It was almost safe to hope that DSW was indeed there to help.

        Unemployment dropped and the general mood was more optimistic.

        There were actually services available to help people retrain and get started again. National has exterminated most of them, or put the price tag beyond the reach of so many.

        Behind the Labour MPs is a much larger structure. How do we get through to the people who advise and guide and inform their parliamentary people? Or don’t we count because we’re only ‘voters’ not ‘members’?

  12. Work and Income may not have “Arbeit macht frei” (work makes one free) as a formal and openly declared philosophy but certainly appears to operate under this infamous Nazi belief nonetheless.

  13. I have seen over the years a number of people for whom the welfare benefit of any kind was a lifestyle choice. They could then go about their busy day doing nothing useful but the old saying that the devil finds work for idle hands really applied. And in these cases the old welfare system with its good intentions had been captured by these types of humans who saw it as a weakness to be exploited.

    However reading Sarah’s account of WINZ and from other things I have seen it appears that not only has National thrown the baby out with the bath water to deal with those types but it also looks like its become totally intentional, vindictive and personal. Any person to National, no matter how justifiable their assistance is, will be treated like vermin. The faux applause for the loser finally getting off their arse and getting a job (that appears to be WINZ’s true feelings) is straight out of 1984. Its scary.

    I understand ACC had a similar unofficial policy known as “Gaslighting” which translated meant making the person doubt themselves, that they never quite do enough to comply with requirements to qualify, that the documents supplied weren’t the right ones or were never supplied at all, their illness exaggerated, imagined, always keeping the victim just out of reach of qualifying for money.

    Its a cruel game and a hall mark of Keys National government, all run on shallow appearances and bullshit.

    And yet the voting base wont care, they will think National and Bennett strong and forthright because they are not relying on WINZ or not yet!

      • The clapping is bad. It gets worse though! Not only is this a mandatory activity blatantly ignoring the miasma of circumstance swirling around the environment, it is accompanied by the enthusiastic ringing of a brass school bell, and that really galls.

      • It tells me that they’re, in difference to Paula Benefit and National, probably sentient.

  14. National’s attitude to beneficiaries is that they are a kind of modern lepper, unclean and not worthy to be a part of NZ society. This is not what a modern democratic political party should be promoting, this is medieval nonsense and it is time the witch hunting stopped.

    • National think that people on benefits are like slaves and need to be forced to work and so they rebuild the welfare system to do exactly that.

  15. How Labour chooses to address the problems you raise here will be a litmus test as to whether or not the leadership change has brought about a genuine change in attitude.

    But one thing is certain: the human rights of those who lack property and/or patronage are severely compromised under the present regime. The WINZ treatment, the indifference to job losses and the attacks on state housing, all show a deep disregard for basic human rights, and even suggest a hope of squeezing as many as they can out of the country.

    When I hear Labour equivocating, I fear that they now see these people as one might see a hill or plain that has been irretrievably lost in a war. One wonders if Labour is even “allowed” to adequately address the problem – whether various loans, etc, are contingent on their keeping their foot on the necks of the vulnerable. I would be very much reassured if Labour were to take on and assert a robust conception of human rights. Alternatively I would like them to honestly explain why they cannot. If it turned out to be the latter, at least we would know what we were up against.

  16. Chris, thank you so much on behalf of all of us who have suffered and go on suffering.

    Do you think the Dom Post (and any other MSM paper you have a published column in) would be brave enough to publish this? In the meantime, if you can repost it in as many blogsites as possible….the more people who read it, the more it might sink in and who knows, somebody with a bit of clout might actually get a guilt twinge (well probably not but stranger things have happened).

  17. @ Annon . Thank you . You’ve proven to me that your kind are a comfortingly small minority . You’ve been nailed by many good and kind people . Ha . Ha . Now fuck off .

  18. “WINZ has an actual policy to publicly celebrate when people get work? I witnessed this today. A bell was rung, and all the workers stood up and clapped – meanwhile, the poor man who supposedly the happy recipient of this “positive reinforcement” sat still and looked utterly and completely mortified.”

    That is unbelievable. WINZ is turning work with the most vulnerable into a fooking game show, including the humiliation.

    17 years ago, at the ‘height’ of the last National government, I witnessed the following at an ACC reception: On a very hot day a paraplegic in a wheelchair rolls in, by himself, visibly hot, for an re-assessment interview. He is greeted by a dolled up receptionist with the words : “glorious day today, isn’t it. I’ll go for a swim after work”. My wife and I were speechless in disgust.

    I have said this frequently lately, how can these people sleep at night?

  19. “An INTERIM REPORT to the UNITED NATIONS COMMITTEE on the
    CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES to be considered by the PRE-SESSIONAL WORKING GROUP to the 12th SESSION”

    This is a must read report by ACCLAIM Otago to the United Nations, raising issues disabled face in New Zealand. This should be of interest to all those having issues with ACC and potentially also WINZ.

    http://acclaimotago.org/un/Report_to_UN.pdf

  20. “The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”
    ― Abigail Van Buren

    I say we FIGHT BACK ! NOW ! TODAY ! FUCK THIS ! FUCK HER / IT ! FUCK THEM !
    W.I.N.Z. Isn’t fucking theirs … it’s fucking ours !
    They’re just fucking administrators , employees . Our fucking employees .

    You ! You on the benefit ? Yes , you ! You pay taxes . You pay those cunts to be awful to you . WTF ? Seriously . What . The . Fuck ?

    No wonder the bastards need … in uniforms sporting prison-… goatee whiskers ? Fuck them too actually ! .

    Whew ! Being angry and raging sure is exhausting . I’m going to have a wee wine and sleep it off .

    But you do get my drift right ?

    • Thank you Countryboy.

      EVERY beneficiary is ALSO a tax payer. On their pittance at source – and every time they shop.

      ‘I don’t want my taxes supporting their lifestyle’.

      Likewise, I’m sure. Let’s stop propping up landlords and droopy enterprises, and mis-fortunate investors. They aren’t producing either work or a practical future for many. Take their leech-y suckers off my wallet.

      PS: the order of the words in your ‘wine sentence’ may need re-ordering to reflect reality. ;-D

  21. “People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.”
    ― Jim Morrison

  22. ..and with the farming out of ‘job courses’ to third parties to search for impossible jobs,the rot goes on..being told to ‘cold call’ employers for jobs is demeaning,and causes irritation for employers being hassled for non-existent jobs..meanwhile the skills people need are not being catered for..surely upskilling people would be a better idea??
    ..as for Housing NZ being ‘folded in’ to WINZ,we are going to see this demeaning behavior extended to more of the vulnerable.Two dysfunctional departments will become one..
    soon,their combined offices will need to be sandbagged and have barbed wire surrounding them.
    Any political party which embraces a sea-change in how we treat beneficiaries will get a lot of votes.
    Perhaps a ‘ruling council’ made up of employees, business leaders, and, most importantly, beneficiaries themselves, is needed.
    Thank you, Chris, for your article.

  23. I’m currently unemployed, a beneficiary advocate and a former WINZ case manager.

    To me, we need to petition the government and the Governor-General to call for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the practices and policies of Work and Income so we get the full picture of what is going on, not just a whole string of claims and counter-claims by various people and groups.

    • Where can I sign up to help/belong to a group who is interested in bringing the WINZ department into line.
      I have had to suffer from the humiliation of going through a WINZ review of my earnings.
      It was the worst time of my life, I am made to feel worthless, a ‘non’ person.
      Things need to change, Paula Benefit and her side kicks need to remember who pays their substantial wages.
      I note Ms Benefit has never revealed how much money and help she received while on a benefit, and what training do she receive then (and now!!) that is paid by the taxpayer.

  24. Whilst you’re all crying in your chardonnay about how the poor are being “tortured” over their “entitlements” I would like to remind you that 34% of govt revenue is going on welfare.

    That’s about twice as much as is being spent on education!

    As a provider of that revenue (a taxpayer) I think it is healthy that there is a degree of stress between peoples ‘wants’ and our ability to provide. I’m not saying that the current system is perfect (these things rarely are) but you need to recognise that a dollar put toward welfare is a dollar not used to educate a child.

      • How about less welfare going to middle class people and more actively directed to thos in need but with the aim of getting them out of long term dependency rather than locking them in?

  25. Chris, it’s not only time to get angry, it’s also time to get nasty! The degradation of people in WINZ offices and by the wealthy right is a breach of the 1993 Human Rights Act. Perhaps we could start the fight back by taking the National government to court for breaching it. If the arrogant government ministers and their right wing media toadies have to defend themselves in court then this will attract international media attention which hopefully will start to unravel the web of spin that surrounds this administration.

  26. I comment here once more, I have posted about it endless times, and I know, that most do not bother reading the info available via the links I provided, but it is at your peril to not do so. As some other recent commenters state, there is real danger in dealing with WINZ, when it comes to medical assessments and so.

    They are also constantly breaking rules and laws, and get away with it, as they have the “stronger arm”.

    Let this not get you down, seek support, work together, contact advocates and others, and try to build networks, and please, for DAMNED SAKE, read what I offered for information, as it reveals it all, what the hell goes on here in your little “cherished” country!!!

  27. Further to this post by Chris Trotter, and to the comments made above, what can the PSA realistically do, when not all staff working for MSD and WINZ are members of the PSA, and when certain “services” are now increasingly being contracted out by MSD and WINZ to outside, private “service providers”?

    By the way a friend of mine sent top PSA persons information on what goes on at WINZ months ago, and it appears it has either not been read, or is not being considered as all that much a “priority” by them.

    As for what is going on with work ability or work capability and medical assessments, have a read of the following article, to understand what is happening already:

    http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/294767/regime-still-untried

    http://www.wisegroup.co.nz/file/position_descriptions/position-description-rhp-work-ability-assessment_feb-14.pdf

    They have already signed up a number of service providers, and one of them is again a kind of “trust” entity belonging to the Wise Group, whose “Strategic Policy Advisor” Helen Lockett advised MSD and WINZ as member of the Health and Disability Panel on welfare reforms in 2012. That advice will have also gone to Paula Bennett and others. Her “advice” appears to have been well “rewarded” with generous contracts for her business Workwise, to offer services in the area of “mental health employment”, and now also for the other service business ‘Linkage’, to do medical and work capability assessments for WINZ and their clients.

    Clearly WiNZ do not want to rely on client’s own doctor’s assessments, and in some cases not even their designated doctor ones, so they see a need to bring in companies delivering services such as ATOS provided to DWP in the United Kingdom!

    Such private providers will not be covered by the Official Information Act, and it will also be difficult to “appeal” any “diagnosis” or “assessment report” that will come from them.

    Not even the Health and Disability Commissioner will be getting involved, as a case I know of made clear.

    This has all been so constructed to leave the affected persons as powerless as possible, with little power to appeal or have any input in what will happen. They will any way be forced to comply with assessments, as changes to the Social Security Act made sure of.

    So the PSA is not even having any say in all this!

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