GUEST BLOG: Simon Buckingham – trying to live with disability under Paula Bennett



A few days ago, Paula Bennett announced that she was stomping on beneficiaries who go abroad. Ironically, on that day, not knowing of this, I was asked if I would go abroad for a client to conduct some negotiations. In return, I could be offered a job at last! I will probably have to decline, as to do otherwise means that I may well end up without any means of support if I do not succeed, leading to my being homeless again.

My name is Simon, and I am a beneficiary. I am also a Lawyer. I have a disability as well. I believe that I am New Zealand’s first diagnosed Autistic Spectrum lawyer. The problem is, who wants to employ an Autistic Lawyer? So far, no-one. As such, I am one of the 60% of people with disabilities who is unemployed, despite two degrees. Funnily enough, 60% is greater than the entire unemployment stats for NZ put out by National. Further proof of statistics massaging by the people who brought you Oravida!

I am angry. The reason is that we are faulty units in New Zealand Inc, and the Vice-CEO, Paula Bennett, wants faulty units to be removed. We are not cost effective, so we should be marginalised. Not enough food. Not enough for basic bills. Not just poverty, but malnutrition, depression and no hope. We are a drain on the neoliberal dream society, and need to be removed.

In my case, I get about $300 a week net. This is after $30 child support is deducted. From that, I have rent at $220, power at $20 per week, and ‘phone at $20 per week. That leaves $40 per week. From this, I need to buy petrol, clothes, food, WoF, Reggo, luxuries (what are those), presents, other debts and as I am locked into a contract, Sky TV at $20 per week.

I did not come to New Zealand to be a beneficiary. I am hungry to work, and am working for no actual wage. I represent people who otherwise do not have access to justice. The single mum, taken advantage of at a party, and who now has to pay $200 for a Lawyer’s letter to say why she cannot name the father, so her benefit is not cut by $20 a week. She has to pay $200 or more for a letter with as much legal standing as telling the same story to a WINZ Case Manager.  The person who has had ACC cut their entitlement because ACC are playing a numbers game, whist apparently having $5 billion in assets, apparently earned by fleecing people of their statutory entitlements. The minimum wage worker fired as they have a sick child, but cannot afford a lawyer. This is what I do, whilst hungry, because someone has to do something. The Unions do a fantastic job, but to my friends in the Unions, I respectfully remind you that there is a whole sub-class under your workers who have no voice. Now is the time to support them and speak up for them as well.

This though is not enough. We are being hounded by National, and the rot has to stop at Parliament. We have 0% MPs with disabilities in Labour, and 0.83% in Parliament as a whole. (Her name is Mojo Mathers). Labour has not had an MP with an admitted disability so far as we have not had anyone from the Kirk (Disability) Sector who has fronted up. This year however, we have an unprecedented four candidates applying for List and Electorates. I am proudly one. I am applying within Labour for Upper Harbour and for the List.

Many in Parliament do not know what it is like living on benefits today. WINZ is designed to keep us down, and National have done this really well by making us the baddies out to ruin New Zealand. Beneficiary bashing. There is the odd ‘Bludger’, but actually, they are very rare. I remember the young woman in New Lynn who was in tears of happiness because she landed a job at Number 1 Shoe Warehouse on minimum wage. I want to work. I was asked to apply for Directorship of Office of Disability Issues. I went into WINZ at Glen Eden to ask for help to check my application. They do not help with job applications. You ask Paula Bennett and she is full of sympathy, as a crocodile will cry, but her evil reign continues. There is nothing to support finding and keeping jobs, as WINZ is not there to get unemployed back to work. They are here to keep us from voting, as we generally vote progressive left.

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WINZ is symptomatic of National. They are paternalistic bullies who are out to force us into submission. Whilst I go hungry like many of my colleagues, I cannot get a food grant, as they say no. If they say yes, I get enough for a few days. I am entitled to $200 every 6 months I believe, but I have only been allowed to use $40. About 50% of the time I am hungry, and it is getting worse. I have the chance of getting a good job, but I cannot go abroad to prove my skills and abilities. Even if I wanted to go abroad for a holiday, show me a beneficiary who can afford to pay for themselves? If workers are entitled to 4 weeks holiday a year, then why aren’t beneficiaries? We are disenfranchised, and to everyone on a benefit, I say this. You can change who is in Government. Your vote counts more than ever! Get out and vote progressive Left. I would like you to Party vote Labour, but if you do not support Labour, then party vote Green, or even Mana. However, if you sit there, then you are as responsible as this Government for the imminent deaths due to lack of finances for the basics like food and medication. Not to vote is to support the fascist neoliberals, and to push New Zealand further into New Zealand Inc. CEO – John Key.


Simon Buckingham is New Zealand’s first diagnosed Autistic Spectrum lawyer. He is a social justice activist and passionate about politics.  


  1. Fantastic article Simon. Genuinely sorry you are in this predicament re: the job opportunity. Hopefully somebody at WINZ can figure out that it it is more productive to support your job search, rather than penalise you for it. As for the 60% stats… I am seriously disabled and my husband is paying for my entire existence. Financially, as well as being my carer (whilst holding down a full time job). We are far from well off. I would say there are quite a few ‘invisible’ people with disabilities who the government has no interest in helping, as somebody is breaking their back to do it on their own. If my husband were not here, I would take up a fair amount of government money due to the level of support I need. It truly worries me that you are hungry. This should not be. Is there any local service you could ask for help? Food parcels perhaps? Thank you so much for the work you do helping others. It is highly admirable. Hopefully some day soon you get the paid job you are looking for, and that you obviously deserve. Here’s hoping that this time around, there is a change of government. I’ll be casting my vote prior to Election Day.

    • Hey Z

      Thanks for the feedback. The article was not supposed to be about me as a victim, but as one of many who are being marginalised by National. I am fronting up with Parliamentary ambitions to ensure we all have a voice, as are three others within Labour. All four of us have been nominated by the Kirk Sector, and so we are ready to take our place in Parliament.

      I really am proud to be able to do my bit to right these wrongs, but we all need to be on-board. We need to get out and vote, and if you find you have issues there, I know Labour will assist in getting you to the voting booths. You no longer even have to go on polling day. As such, let’s unite and get rid of these people who do not care about our communities, and want to get rid of us as an inconvenience. If you have mobility or accessibility issues, call your Party, whether Labour, Green or Mana, and we will assist.

      I am so excited about this election, as I feel that finally we will have a showing in the House!

  2. Simon, your story is genuinely heartbreaking. We need people like you willing to take a stand. Good luck with your political aspirations.
    What the hell is wrong with this country, politicians and media that it is ok for the disabled and poor not to have enough food to eat.
    It is disgusting. I too am concerned that you are living like this.
    Have you contacted the Sallies, food banks, local churches etc.
    Congratulations on trying to improve the situation for others and I sincerely hope things improve for you in the near future.
    Good luck.

  3. My brother has spina bifida and has spent his entire life in a wheelchair. He’s on an invalid’s benefit and every year WINZ demands that he goes to a doctor to get a medical certificate proving that his condition hasn’t miraculously improved and he can suddenly walk. There’s no point telling WINZ that spina bifida is a permanent, incurable condition; Mark was born with it and will die with it.

    But every year he has to pay over $150 in doctor’s fees and taxis (he can’t access a bus) to get a certificate that is just a waste of time.

    Maybe this is what Paula Bennet should be looking at? Or is that too hard for her?

    • I am not convinced of the legality of this, and Sue Moroney asked a question along these lines in the House about two or three months ago, and was assured by Bennett that this was not the case.

      If this continues, speak with me, and I am sure there are things we can do to resolve this. 🙂

    • Im on a DPB & receive a disability allowance for my asthma, which clearly is permanent. I haven’t had to supply a yearly medical certificate for a few years now as my Dr has stated my condition is permanent. I know this is not an Invalids benefit, but im not understanding why this isn’t also the case for your brother? On saying that I don’t have to get my dr to fill out the form, inevitably EVERY single year without fail, ive been sent a threatening letter after my yearly benefit renewal, that I Have not supplied the certificate and my disability will be cut off if I do not! So, every year without fail, I ring the call centre and have the same angry conversation that I DO NOT have to supply it & to get it sorted.. Each year I get promised that this will not happen again.. guess what..each year it happens.. Obviously, I don’t have to go get the certificate, however, its the BS around having to make that call to winz every year to tell them so that is the infuriating part.

  4. Bennett proves her hypocrisy every day with her abuse of welfare beneficiaries. It wasn’t too long ago that she benefitted from being on the DPB, as well as getting a tertiary education paid by WINZ and State assistance to buy a house!

    Why is is that those who should know better (Key and Bennett) are the ones who demonise the welfare system the most?

    This year my entire family will be leafletting for Labour. We’ll be doing our bit to get rid of Key, Bennett, and all the other hypocrites in this government.

  5. I think you’re being a bit harsh on Labour, Simon. While there may be no MPs with disabilities, Jones, Goff, and Mallard have got something bloody well wrong with them.

    Good luck with your attempt to get into Parliament. If you never forget why you’re there, which I imagine would be difficult, I think you’ll be an asset.

  6. Well said, Simon.
    As a beneficiary, I have looked at our political parties, and see no representation of beneficiaries,or any comment on how to clean up the cesspool that is WINZ. With Housing Corp now being ‘folded in’ to WINZ,we are about to see a super dysfunctional department showing even less compassion to its’ clients.
    Until the minister and department heads can ‘walk in the shoes’ of the average beneficiary for six months or so, they have no idea of how hard life can be.
    I admire your courage, and offer best wishes for your future career…and thanks for standing up for those people in the same boat.

  7. Hi Simon, I believe what you are doing is incredible and honestly you are speaking on behalf of those in the same situation and some who are not. Low income earners and beneficiaries are facing hardship nowadays. I have seen an increase of homeless and also children’s lunches been stolen and even crime for stealing food???? Maybe it is a plan of government to catch these people so they profit in their fines, it leaves one to think. One point you made (If workers are entitled to 4 weeks holiday a year, then why aren’t beneficiaries? ) I believe that is a fair statement as people forget that beneficiaries pay taxes too???? Keep up the great work Simon

  8. Hi Simon,
    Great article. Keep up the good work, hope things get better for everyone soon – you’re right neo-liberalism has lead us all to a place we never wanted to be.

  9. Hi Simon, I want to say well done for deciding to break into parlimentary politics and I wish you success, we definately need the representation and I know just from reading your post that should you make it into parliament you would be a great representative for disabled and everyone being victimised by the system.

    I do have a question for you though. What is Labour’s stance on Welfare “reforms”? They have been conspicuously quiet the last few years. I’d like to think it’s because the MSM aren’t reporting their press releases as prominantly as the do Paula’s, but I’m not too sure. If A Labour-led govt is elected, will they reverse the sanctions, stop the harrasment, treat us like human beings? Given a lot of this actually started under their last watch we have very good grounds to be cynical; many think they agree with Nation, they just aren’t so open about it. Election promises mean nothing. All the beneficiaries I know- myself included- have moved our vote from Labour to Greens over the last few elections for this reason. We’re a big reason the Green’s party vote increased. Labour stopped being a party that gives a damn about beneficiaries a long time ago. I’m interested in your comments please?

    • Seconded, Kaye.

      Labour’s ‘focus on poverty’ isn’t doing much to lift people out of it. In my view, it’s entirely the wrong thing to be focused on. As ‘senior management’ they need to be looking at the systems and structures in place that are causing the problem, not simply looking at the symptoms. I haven’t seen anyone in their senior line up with the experience to guide this. And the public service has been gutted of anyone who could think.

      They don’t seem to know what to do to run in harness with the private sector and make a better present and future for all. Last time they were around they did nothing to reverse Richardson’s hacks and limitations. Nor move the many blocks to scrambling out of the welfare mazes. Not sure Green is any better, frankly.

  10. Simon you are just making s*^t up. You are perfectly entitled to travel for a job prospect, and providing you notify WINZ of the reason for the travel in advance there will be no problem. The rules are designed to stop beneficiaries using tax payer funds to take overseas holidays. I’m damned if I’m working the hours I work to pay for someone else’s holiday’s.

    • Would you be oh so happy to vote for a party that will let you say where your taxes can be put?

      Out of your Enormous Contribution of, what?, $33 000? who is going to benefit from your largesse?

      Stats? Customs? Mr Joyce’s bloated bureaucracy? Who, Dear IV, is Worthy to receive your wee drop in the bed pan?

      Moi? I deeply resent having my tithe and a bit going toward the grossly inflated salaries of MPs and heads of department. Totally disconnected from reality – and quality.

      Might we agree on this point at all?

    • IV…You and your like are the Real scourage of this country. Your self righteous and mean spirited attitude is everything i teach my children NOT to be, shame on you.

    • I know of some people who have had their benefits cut for going overseas for job interviews who had told WINZ before hand and still had their benefit cut. I also know of people who were sent by WINZ overseas for job interviews and still had their benefit cut. I think you need to do some more research before talking.

      • That’s all bollock’s and you know it. WINZ want people to get into work, not collect benefits, and certainly not swan off overseas. If the travel was genuine, the benefits will not be cut.

    • Sorry mate but not made up. The Glen Eden Branch today said that based upon what I told them, that I want to go abroad, paid for by a prospective employer, to trial me, that my benefit would be suspended. They would prefer me to sit on my tush and do nothing than actually work as a senior negotiator.

      I so badly wish I was making it up. I really do.

  11. “There is the odd ‘Bludger’, but actually, they are very rare. ”

    No, they are not rare. Our welfare system is like a huge sign that cries out “come bludgers, one and all”.

    “Bennett said more than 1750 people have had their benefit suspended for multiple overseas trips since July.

    The largest group of suspensions applied to nearly 11,200 people on job seeker benefits, followed by more than 4800 solo parents and about 3500 on the supported living payment.”

  12. Hi there

    You said above ” I did not come to New Zealand to be a beneficiary”

    Where did you come from can I ask?

        • I’m earning gazillions and I’m entitled to tax breaks, government hand-outs to subsidise my business (selling legal highs at Charter Schools where I’m also fracking for radioactive oil) and all you benes are making me feel too guilty so kindly go into an alleyway somewhere and just quietly die. There, you see, I’m not a heartless nutcase. I’m thinking of passers-by who don’t want to see lazy benes top themselves!!

          By the way, global warming is not real and the Earth is flat. Just look out the window. It’s raining, ergo, no global warming. And do you see a curved planet?? Huh?? Well?? Do you??

          Bloody lefties. You’ll be wanting to give women the vote next!!

  13. Upper Harbour well I’m in that electorate you’d better choice for us former sickness beneficiaries now jobseeker support people than Bennett or Rankian (former CEO of WINZ) by million times

  14. When I was on a benefit, I had a job interview in Auckland, while I was living in Wellington. I went in to the WINZ, and asked for the $58 to fly there and back on those fares Air NZ used to have, the night rider ones.

    But they don’t pay for flights. Instead, they offered me a bus ticket. From Wellington to Auckland – an 11 hour journey. I have severe ADHD, and there’s no way I could sit for 11 hours on a bus and be capable of attending a job interview.

    The kicker? the flights were cheaper. Or they would have been, had WINZ not also been funding the travel agents, because they refuse to let you book flights on the internet then reimburse you.

  15. I understand why the focus here is on missing job opportunities & that people don’t want beneficiaries ‘popping off’ for overseas trips whenever they fancy but the reality is that benefit rates have already taken care of that. No beneficiary could afford to go overseas without enduring massive hardship to get there anyway. What this means to me is that, no matter how hard I save & what I go without, I can never see my family (in Australia) again. Ever. To me that’s not trivial.

  16. I said to the Bennett supporter above that this was not made up. I stand by that. I have a few things to say about this guest blog…..

    1. Thanks Bomber for allowing me to say what is happening here. I am really grateful.

    2. I anticipated WINZ saying no. When I wrote this, they had not made a decision. The decision made this afternoon was that I could go, attend a job interview, and return. This situation did not qualify, despite leading to a job. As there was no formal interview, they would suspend all benefits. The preference is for me to remain long term unemployed than go abroad, at the expense of someone else, with a job in mind.

    3. Whatever my Case Manager and the gentleman above stated, this is NOT Government money being wasted. The waste comes with their not thinking laterally to help people into work. This is the second time that I am losing out on a well paid job because WINZ (WORK and Income NZ, emphasis on WORK) do not help people into work. This was paid for entirely by a third Party, and the negotiations would have benefitted NZ and got me off the benefits as I so badly want.

    4. The other comments really humble me. We are in the same boat, whether working or not, and we need to rebuild our communities from the damage done by the neoliberals.

    5. Get out and vote, and vote progressive left. I cannot emphasise this enough. 🙂

    Thank you my friends and comrades.

  17. Someone I’d been at school with regularly holidayed in the USA and beyond. I asked how she could afford to and she said she simply saved up her DPB as though it was the most easy thing to do. At the same time other women on the DPB struggled to keep a roof over their heads, pay the astronomical power bills, feed themselves and their children more than chicken frames soup. However she had quickly saved her DPB by living with her parents but her mothers guilt ridden oppressive religious beliefs regularly sent the young woman into psychiatric units. Whenever she moved out there was no way she could manage rent and utilities on the benefit while bringing up a dependent child, much less travel to the next suburb, let alone overseas. Even with social worker support, getting a food grant from WINZ was worse than finding hens teeth. The poverty quickly catapulted her back into mental health treatment facilities and a raft of dingy boarding houses ensued. Then when john key got into govt he said there was very little money and so began taking it from the people that needed it and giving it to rich people that didn’t need it. Why haven’t those on corporate welfare (SCF AMI Warner Bros, Fonterra, media works etc) had their overseas travel stopped?

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