Why we should all feel ashamed at Paula Bennett’s attack on Sarah Wilson

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Paula Bennett is terrified of Sarah Wilson. Sarah is the blogger who has written in wincing detail the inhumane face of WINZ under Paula’s all stick/no carrot approach to sickness beneficiaries.

Wilson’s criticisms are not unique. Voices like Bryan Bruce and the Child Poverty Action Group have provided righteous and blistering attacks on the status quo of poverty, but examples of people impacted directly by these draconian welfare reforms do so at their own risk.

Natasha Fuller attempted to critique Paula Bennett’s desire to remove the same education programs Paula herself had benefited from and outrageously had her personal details released in public to embarrass and humiliate her. Rather than debate why she was being so hypercritical, Paula sought to eviscerate Natasha Fuller in public. It was shameful bullying at its worst. The Human Rights Commission condemned Bennett’s abuse of power as a gross breach of privacy. Bewilderingly, Bennett responded by promising to do the same again in the future. A position she had to later retreat from after an angry word from the Prime Minister’s office.

Then there was wheelchair bound beneficiary Sam Kuha who underwent a hunger strike as a response to his political protest at the kafkaesque madness of the new WINZ rules by attacking his local branch with a hammer. Sam had to pointlessly seek out budgeting advice even though his budget hadn’t changed and the issue wasn’t how he was spending his budget, the issue was the pitiful amount of welfare he was being paid. The only price Sam asked for to halt his hunger strike was a meeting with Paula Bennett to put to her the counter productive cruelty of her welfare policies. Paula turned up, but she didn’t listen.

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Paula knew that years of beneficiary bashing made most NZers immune to a compassionate response to these hideous cases. They were ignored by the wider populace as exceptions and the attached stereotypes allowed the wider NZ audience to place it all the ‘other’ category. This was stuff that happened to ‘others’, not ‘them’.

Bennett understood the spite many in society felt towards beneficiaries and never failed to roll out harsh knee jerk policy announcements whenever the Government needed a media distraction, that’s why Sarah Wilson proved so troublesome for Bennett.

To date Paula knew the petty stereotypes would carry her dog whistle, Sarah Wilson however fell outside those stereotypes and puts a face to the reforms that is difficult to throw into the ‘other’ category. There are few reasonable NZers who can read her harrowing experiences and not become immediately furious at the needless damage caused.

Which all explains Paula Bennett’s contemptuous public shaming of Sarah Wilson last week in a statement where she offensively sings the praises of the staff who are being forced to implement such counter productive and septic policy.

To sing sweetly of the staff who put Sarah through such needlessly rough tactics is a Minister wanting to publicly humiliate Sarah, just as Paula has done with any beneficiary who challenges her.

It’s ugly.

Somehow we have allowed the word ‘welfare’ to be a sleazy negative rather than the holistic positive it really is. How have we managed to become so spiteful towards the weakest and must vulnerable amongst us? Are our supposed successes in a neoliberal consumer culture so hollow and empty that we must shit upon the less fortunate for an inch higher social leverage?

We are better than a social policy warped by petty bigotry into cruelty.  Natasha Fuller,  Sam Kuha and Sarah Wilson are civil rights heroes because they face the wrath of an unjust system when they have the courage to challenge it for its injustice.

All 3 deserve an apology and the resources to become as autonomous as every other citizen, that’s what an egalitarian democracy does, that’s who we have been and that’s who we have  forgotten we were.

Our most vulnerable deserve better than the hideous insincerity and intellectual bankruptcy of Paula Bennett.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Martyn – Government policy around welfare reflects such a punitive stance and fails to comply with any sense of decency or human rights. Labour needs to start announcing policies which show simple compassion and a recognition of the reality of the changing nature of ‘work’ in this world

  2. It was shameful bullying at its worst.

    You’ve hit it on the nail, Martyn.

    It is no secret that New Zealand has a punitive aspect to it’s “blokish” culture. To Rugby, Racing and Beer we could add “and a punch”.

    The media highlights the bullying that goes on in our schools and workplaces, but doesn’t ask the pertinent question; how high up does bullying extend?

    The answer is, All The Way To The Top.

    When Bennett bullies those on welfare, what she is doing is sending several messages to the public;

    1. It’s not our fault we have high unemployment!

    2. Bash a Bene A Day – it’s OK!

    3. Never mind the scandal of the day – have you seen how much benes are living in the lap of luxury?

    And unfortunately the media is complicit in this. Journos rarely ask questions such as, recently with beneficiaries supposedly travelling overseas, how they could afford to travel on $216 a week.

    Make no mistake, it is bullying. State sanctioned bullying. It diverts attention from National’s inability to generate jobs and panders to that psychopathic minority who revel in vindictiveness – bullies themselves.

    And notice that when one challenges one of these bullies as to what is the percentage of so-called “bludgers” to”real beneficiaries”, you hardly ever (never, actually) get a sensible answer.

    To add to Sarah’s situation is the utterly crazy policy that people with permanent handicaps such as spina bifida – confined to a wheelchair for their entire lives – are required by WINZ to seek a medical certificate annually.

    Evidently, WINZ need to be reassured that a Jesus-like miracle has not taken place and the person cured of their disability.

    They should be so lucky.

    One thing that a new government must do immediatly is to change this culture at WINZ. I have found most WINZ staffers to be reasonable and helpful – but those small minority who insist on pursuing hard-line tactics should be moved on to other jobs.

    Further still, it is a cultural shift we need in this country. Focusing on bullying in schools or the Minister’s office is only part of the solution.

    • “To add to Sarah’s situation is the utterly crazy policy that people with permanent handicaps such as spina bifida – confined to a wheelchair for their entire lives – are required by WINZ to seek a medical certificate annually. Evidently, WINZ need to be reassured that a Jesus-like miracle has not taken place and the person cured of their disability. They should be so lucky.”

      Yes, Frank, the system in place is just punitive, controlling and totally unreasonable! I know of people who were diagnosed with terminal illness, yet were required to hand in medical certificates to “prove” this all over again and again!

      There are people I know, whose doctors have repeatedly written on certificates that the conditions are PERMANENT! yes, permanent, but no, under the present system, those are still being re-assessed repeatedly, as if some form of “miracle” may have happened since an earlier one, that the conditions may have vanished.

      This is exactly where this new supposed “evidence based” approach in regards to work ability assessments, and medical assessments, coming from Aylward et al in the UK, is so damned dangerous. They really question many conditions and the permanency, and seem to think, hey the sick and disabled can still compete with fit and healthy for ordinary jobs on the job market.

      I know that there are disabled and sick, who want to do some work, but in some cases they are a bit unrealistic about the pressures and challenges they may face out there. So where persons can be helped, and that with fair, reasonable and truly supportive treatment, then let them try it and go for it. But for many it will be just another “expectation” that WINZ staff will now put onto them, following the orders from the top, which says something like “work will set you free”. Now, where did we last hear that phrase in history?

    • Perhaps, just perhaps, the selfish behaviour of a few, indeed, quite a few, have brought the wrath of the wealth creators down on the beneficiary system and a rather large group of beneficiaries deserve all of the opprobrium that they get.

      I feel that I am well qualified to comment as my view of beneficiaries as a group has changed markedly after witnessing members of my own extended family rorting the system over an extended period. When questioned, their reply was that they had paid their taxes and we’re now entitled to income support without working. And these are members of our community who contribute nothing to the community within which they live. They don’t participate in community groups, assist with community organisations or do anything other than sit around bemoaning the fact that other people are better off than them. And I’m not talking of just one or two!

      You will all probably round on me as some sort of uncaring neo-liberal. I expect the backlash but I posit that my point is very valid.

      If Labour are expected to do something for the genuinely needy then they need to deal with this group of ner’do wells first.

      • So they are not asked to make five job applications per day, as you suggest, and are left alone to just cruise along, as you want us to believe? They are according to your comment (if they are young) not asked to do some training and go door knocking?

        That does not match with the reality as I hear and see it everyday. Unemployed are expected to do as I just wrote, and sick and disabled have to go and get medical certificates, and then still often get re-assessed by WINZ doctors, because WINZ likes to double check and even uses doctors that bend the rules and ethics of their profession.

        And sole parents are chased 24/7 also, to take on part time work, once their youngest is 5.

        I am sorry, I do not quite believe what you are commenting here. You must have just arrived from outer space.

        • Your answer typifies the apologists. I could write a lengthy reply detailing the methods used to avoid re-assessments and twist the medical professions arms.

          As I said, I’m not talking about some ethereal non person. I am talking about specific members of my own extended family. I am ashamed of them and I posit that they are not unique – there are a lot of beneficiaries who fall under the same umbrella.

          • So what are you going to do about your bludgeing family members onyabike?

            Are you going to give them a hand up, or are you going to dobb them into WINZ, or are you just putting your stuff on here to try and counter the reality of Paula Bennetts WINZ bashing.

          • Since you did not answer ANY of my questions I simply do not give you much credit. You keep going on about extended family, and feeling shame, and bla, bla, bla, not giving any details.

            And how can you avoid assessments, it is impossible, as WINZ will have the upper hand, and if a client refuses, then they will cut or completely stop your benefit!

            You are either making all this up, or you have no clue about the particulars of the cases you are talking about. While I do not rule out there is some abuse, it is a tiny percentage by those who may take advantage of friends and relatives also, to save living costs, as otherwise there is no easy ride and life of pleasure on the benefit.

            Sorry, I have little time for such baseless comments that are not backed up by facts.

            • To provide facts will identify the town/city and family, which I will not do.

              As I have members of my family who have abused the system so I have members who have benefited.

              But again, to provide supporting evidence would lead to identity.

              I agree about WINZ assessments but you are too trusting. They have worked around the system for years, both WINZ and ACC.

              • “To provide facts will identify the town/city and family, which I will not do.”

                Rubbish, you do not need to give names, or locations to present an argument based on information that can deliver proof of ways to “cheat” the system.

                If you have good enough arguments as to the how this “fraud” or “abuse” was done, or could be done, then deliver them. No doctor will allow black mail or being pressured unreasonably, no WINZ case manager will stop sending someone to a designated doctor assessment, if considered necessary, in their view.

                That is unless you are talking about gangs or so threatening, but then the threatened should go to the police.

                So what I read coming from you does not convince me, I am sorry to disappoint you. You also use a pseudonym, so what is your worry?

                Best wishes with your “cherished” and “not so cherished” relatives.

            • I believe that Paula Bennett has been on tax payer funded income her entire life.

              Right now she is gobbling up tax payer money in her daily job of picking on the beneficiaries, while taking food out of the mouths of hungry children. Our children are our future.

              Opinion.

      • so based on one scenario that is close to your heart you put all beneficiaries in the same category? gee that’s pretty damning.

        I’m not a doctor, so i cant comment on the veracity of those you speak for, given your words it sounds like they are on a sickness benefit …. however i usually leave the diagnosis of those who are stressed or unable to work due to their circumstances putting them on a sickness benefit, to a qualified medical professional.

        an apoligist i’m not, a compassionate human being who understands the frailties of life, who understands that those that are disadvantaged need more than damnation, and i try and allow myself to be placed in shoes i might not walk in.

        it sounds to me as if you are allowing your obvious hatred for certain members of your family for whatever reason, to cloud and colour your judgement of all beneficiaries whether that is justified or not.

        oh to live staring from on high with hate and envy down on those one cannot feel any empathy for, what a sad and lonely place that must be.

  3. It seems to me that National won their first election by stirring up non-existent dissatisfaction around tax rates and since then they have managed to change the cultural pysche of most New Zealanders into a survival of the fittest society modelled on the American dream….(if you just work hard enough, you too can be obscenely rich and who cares about those people you walk past who sleep on the streets, that’s their fault mentality). Bennett and Key do a great spin reinforcing that approach.

    • I couldn’t agree more Dawn. I believe National are changing the whole whole fabric of NZ. Soon we will start seeing more mega rich and far more homeless people as they Americanise our society more. They won’t admit it but I think National would be quite happy for Nz to become a state of the USA…

  4. Wouldnt it be great if journalists such as Eva Bradley who had a bash at the egg throwing beneficiaries in Napier actually spent a day in a WINZ office and talked to some of the people who are finding life tough. Her self made positioning fails to recognise that her white privelege is built on brown dispossession. Pointing out that the whingers are ethnic minorities was a big clue in that direction. The level playing field is a myth that needs to be busted. The middle class who used to go overseas for their annual holidays and are now opting for staycations or renovating their houses are a sign that all is not well in the world. They dont give a second thought for those who have never been on a holiday anywhere in their lives and that is a reality that is very close to home.

  5. “Paula Bennett is terrified of Sarah Wilson. Sarah is the blogger who has written in wincing detail the inhumane face of WINZ under Paula’s all stick/no carrot approach to sickness beneficiaries.”

    It is very UGLY, yes, indeed, and it is unfair, inhumane, insulting, and at least “petty fascist” and patronising what Paula Bennett is doing, and what her “underlings” (excuse the expression, dear staff at WINZ) at MSD are doing. But to be fair the the ordinary staff, of whome there are decent, helpful one amongst them, they are forced by their employment contracts, to work under a more than willing senior leadership within MSD, some of whom have pushed for these reforms themselves for years.

    With the appearance of new “medical findings” from a “Research Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research”, based at Cardiff University in Wales, but for years “sponsored” by a controversial private health and disability insurer called UNUM, and headed by one Professor Mansel Aylward, Paula Bennett, her MSD and WINZ have found the “perfect” “science” to deal to persons like Sarah Wilson.

    Bennett basically ridiculed any criticism Sarah Wilson expressed, by claiming, she was a person in distress, and thus not thinking clearly and logically. Read it here:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/10001705/Bennett-No-changes-at-Work-and-Income

    Quote: ““Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says she is proud of Work and Income’s 4500 staff and won’t be making changes as a result of a campaign by Nelson woman Sarah Wilson.

    Wilson has said the department is inhumane, and that dealing with it is frustrating, depressing, anxiety-inducing, dehumanising and debilitating. Her complaint about her treatment as a beneficiary led to an apology from the Nelson office.

    But Bennett, who visited the Nelson office yesterday, said while there she had been approached by a woman tearfully complimenting the work of two staff, and had been shown letters and notes received from people who disagreed with Wilson.”

    “”She has an opinion on how she was dealt with and I think mistakes were made. They owned up to them, apologised and went out of their way to fix it, and I actually give the department and this office full respect for that,” Bennett said. She said she was not undermining Wilson’s experience, but there was a counter to it.
    “We work with some people that are at the most challenging and distressing times in their lives and their perception of how they’re dealt with can sometimes be not perhaps the reality if they were in a different frame of mind.”

    “With 295,000 people on welfare, she had much more to think about than Wilson, she said, and she saw no need to make changes as a result of what Wilson had said. Although there were some mistakes, Work and Income staff cared about the people they dealt with and wanted to help them – that was why they worked there.

    “I’m really proud of them,” Bennett said. “I stand not just beside them, I stand in front of them and I’m happy to take any flak for the policies, but I think the work that they’re doing is outstanding.” “

    Conclusion: So when you suffer mental health issues, they (Bennett and WINZ staff) tend to dismiss any actions or expressions coming from you as not logical and thus not true. It is merely part of your conditions. As an affected person you are therefore ridiculed and not taken seriously. That is how they deal to you, when you are distressed and not coping.

    It does not mean that Bennett and MSD leadership are “terrified”, they are “managing” the challenges and criticism, and sadly it is the inaction of our medical and health professionals, to NOT STAND UP and defend the rights and well-being of such persons as Sarah, as that should be their duty. Instead we have GPs and others gradually being influenced by an IDEOLOGY coming from an UNUM paid “research” that a self interested propagator like Mansel Aylward and his followers spread.

    It is shocking that nobody in the media gets it, and asks the hard questions, and does some research into all this stuff!

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/8165236/Work-tests-concern-disability-organisation

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=10898616

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

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

    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/

    And the new approach is meant to “fix it”, that is work on the open job market, which Aylward, and WINZ Principal Health Advisor now call “therapeutic” for most.

    This does not worry Bennett and MSD enough as yet, as only if more would speak up and raise criticism, will they start to take note. So far they simply single out and silence people, and that is what this is all about, none else.

    • The way Paula benefit is talking she is almost generalising that anyone needing WINZ’s help have some sort of mental disorder or something. Now I have read many reports of people going into WINZ with sound mind who have come away with the same conclusions. It shows Paula has nothing left but to start degrading people.

  6. As all beneficiaries are now job seekers,
    How did National cure all the sick People?
    I really want to know.

  7. As a beneficiary,I say ‘good on you Sarah’ for having the guts to go public.As well as being punitive in its’ dealings with clients, WINZ is pushing those on the dole into the hands of third-party providers to get a job..any job A lot of people are disadvantaged,yet no effort is being made to upskill them (unless they pay for 3-rd party providers to
    provide training – for a non- guaranteed job.)
    Remember the computers which were in branches for people to job-search in the net..till it was shown how easy it was to hack them?
    We were promised they’d be back…yeah,nahhh…still waiting.
    I am still waiting to hear ANY political party address the unemployment issue in a comprehensive inclusive manner..they will have my vote (and that of fellow beneficiaries)…

  8. As a beneficiary by default , and an ex Government employee it has been an eye opening and soul destroying experience being on the flip side of such a system. Stigma reigns supreme as a single parent of 3 a beneficiary and unemployed. Should we actually receive the child support we are entitled I would not be deemed unemployed or even need to receive a benefit. However I am advised not to rely on this money and funnily enough have never seen a cent. I am sure that if child support was paid to those entitled and then recovered from the owing parent our child support system would be far more effective. Interestingly as a middle class Pakeha in unfortunate circumstances it is abundantly clear I dont belong in this system.. When the budgeter asks ‘do you have sky’ and I say ‘are you joking ? ‘ she was not… it is an actual question. And for the record we dont even have TV how middle class is That!

    • Yes, the demographic stereotype game gets sickening too. Maori and Pacifica must be poor, and thus “patronised”, and the rest should bloody well pull their act together, as things are not that “bad”.

      Paula Bennett gets away with what they do, because they single out people, who raise issues. Also the system is so restrictive and punitive, most just tow the line and do not dare to argue with case managers, with WINZ as a whole, and so they put up with mega crap, and the media, wanting “personal victim stories”, they do not get these, due to the incessant suppression and intimidation by MSD and WINZ.

      That then gets interpreted by too many, as if there is “really no problem”. That is like saying, there was never any problem with anti semitism in Nazi Germany, because the “Semites” were all kept well away from the rest of the public, namely in concentration camps.

      Welcome to a semi fascist mindset, that dominates NZ Inc.!

  9. “I’m really proud of them,” Bennett said. “I stand not just beside them, I stand in front of them and I’m happy to take any flak for the policies, but I think the work that they’re doing is outstanding.”

    Once apon a time, I too was silenced by MSD and WINZ.

    The mentality of Paula Bennett is sociopathic. Yes, we have a sociopath running our welfare system.
    That is why she is so capable of shooting them all down.
    We have another one running our ACC and Justice system too. In fact there appear to be quite a few of them in this Nat government.

    Why on earth would the NZ govt take on board studies done in Wales by this Aylward fellow. He is very obviously a sociopath too! And this is NZ not Wales.
    They have used Aylwards theories in England too with disastrous results.

    The appeal of Aylwards theories, is that his way of sociopathic thinking, aligns with our governments thinking – the sociopathic thinking that says its okay to pick on the most vulnerable of our society.
    Well, its not, and Aylward is a sociopath who was unfortunately funded to do a paper while he was at this Cardiff university.

    Adopting these sociopathic principles, saves the govt money, and sometimes actually kills the beneficiary, which removes the dead person from their books completely.

    Funny how the govt don’t have statistics on how many beneficiaries, and ACC recipients commit suicide.

    Hopefully Bennett will be another one out the door at this election, and the new minister will tell Aylward to get stuffed!

    Opinion.

    • MISTERY – you are touching a sensitive issue, even the scientific fellowship are too cowardly about to address Aylward and sell-out “scientists”, of which there are far too many.

      They are like GPs and other medical practitioners, they also do not like to “criticise” each other. There is a silent fraternity at work, and sadly, they are increasingly depending not only on government funding, also on private enterprise funding, to have jobs and do some work.

      That is where we are, the majority of the “scientists”, doctors, certainly bureaucrats, they all tow the line, as they do not dare to bit the hand that feeds them. Right or wrong no longer matter, the way capitalism, and even state managed economics work, it is all about paying the piper, and the piper will never dare to dissent.

      Time for a real revolt, I would say, if only common people would realise, they are not lone individuals, there are many, majorities, with the same problems and challenges, and if they would reach out and meet, that would make all the damned difference we need!

      • Yes Marc, I am touching a sensitive issue!

        It needs to be touched!

        It needs to be exposed for what it really is.

        And as for the people who receive WINZ and ACC income committing suicide – well the government know not to keep these statistics, because then how transparent would their bullying and corruption appear!

        The real life consequences of their continual bullying and harassment of the most vulnerable in our society, just because some idiot sociopath from Cardiff University in Wales decided it’s a good idea of his – and of course govts in England and NZ have taken his ridiculous theories onboard because it saves them all money – at the expense of those who need the most help.

        The UN are onto it now though – and this is very good!
        Accountability!

        Opinion.

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