GUEST BLOG: Kate Davis – Why beneficiaries need advocacy

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There are times when I am wrong. I was wrong recently when someone suggested to me that AAAP should be eligible for government funding to continues its advocacy work. That was before. Before dealing with advocacy on a weekly basis over the last year, before the Impact in Mangere last month where a group of volunteers aided over five hundred people in three days and turned away hundreds more, and of course, before the events of yesterday.
I was wrong. Idealistic and wrong.

I reacted viscerally to the suggestion because I have first hand experience of working for an NGO with a MoH contract. Funding comes with strings attached. Funding often comes at the expense of political autonomy and the cost is an organisations silence. There is no surer way to tame the activist or agitator than to hire them. We have seen it time and again with MPs. Ideals are often sold off for job security and a company car. The same happens with the subversive NGO. You can have the funding and to a degree you can still lobby. Quietly with respect and as long as you are always being mindful of who is picking up the tab. If you forget there are ways to remind you. The Gambling Foundation springs to mind. This needs to change.

We need to ensure that an organisation like AAAP continue the other aspects of it’s operation that are as crucial to it’s kaupapa. Hand in hand with the advocacy is the ability to lobby for better legislation, to openly criticism the government of the day, and of course to protest actions and policy that are detrimental to those living in poverty. To operate in the best interests of the people we represent AAAP would need the ability to continuously bite the hand that feeds? We need to stop funding organisations to become lap dogs. We need to fund full on growling, barking watch dogs.

AAAP operates out of an office in Princes St Onehunga. It is an organisation running on the smell of an oily rag, literally from the garages below. That and the kindness of others. We have one part time paid staff member and an amazing and devoted team of volunteers that give generously of their time and knowledge. We answer to no one. But that’s not really true.

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We answer to the people we work with. The beneficiaries we advocate for and empower so they can pass on their knowledge. If we want to do the best we can for them, then advocacy needs to be funded. We need to be accessible in a variety of area across Auckland. We need to be able to meet people onsite when required, attend meetings and visit people that have no transport or child care or are house bound in their homes. We need to have people that are available on short notice. We need more of us. We also need to ensure that there is either a national collective or body of advocates working across the country so that no matter where you are you have access to support.

We need this because the adversarial culture of WINZ demands it. The systems in place within WINZ processes often leave people angry, frustrated and without the necessities of life. People that are cold, hungry and homeless are already disempowered. The very least we can offer them is support to help them access the things that our welfare system is configured to provide. In a society where we are constantly trying to encourage people to speak and ask for help, we have allowed our welfare system to evolve into a culture where those that require assistance are afforded no dignity or respect.

I was wrong. We can no longer afford to operate on just ideals.

 

Kate Davis is completing her B.A English & politics. Previously she has worked for the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective & currently volunteers as an advocate for Auckland Action Against Poverty.

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. ‘Social Security’ ceased to exist around 1991 and DSW to WINZ there has been a downward trajectory to a sadistic punishment system. WINZ is the absolute last port for most given the bureaucratic obstacle course it presents for most people in need of assistance.

    Advocates are needed because it comes through consistently that WINZ staff do not inform people of their full entitlements let alone decide in favour of “jobseekers” and their families. This pisses me off because many WINZ staff, likely PSA members, are eligible for a benefit themselves–WFF working for families in work tax credit. The old deserving vs undeserving poor situation.

    As a unionist I do not support questioning other workers behaviour lightly. But I do know particularly supervisors are chosen for their right wing attitudes and in rural areas farmers wives get the jobs to tut tut at the ‘dirty bennies’, sorry if the half dozen nice WINZ staff are offended.

    AAAP is doing a marvellous job on bugger all like the original Peoples Centre did. Ultimately any group pushing for real social justice and change has to be funded by its supporters. There are many examples of NGOs being trampled when they are too effective.

    • Thanks Tiger. I agree that the focus of WINZ has changed since 1991 & that over the last twenty three years I have seen a deterioration in the way people are treated. This has never been more apparent than in the last six years.

  2. Well written, Kate Davis. As a beneficiary myself who saves the grand sum of $1 per week, I would just as happily pay that $1 into the advocacy service. Beneficiaries (obviously) do need advocates as they are mostly too stressed, tired and hungry to think on their feet. Thank you and AAAP. It’s time beneficiaries were recognised as people, individuals who all have some sort of backstory or even a family backstory which may be a generation or so deep. If beneficiaries could have more of a say and network a little they would also be able to help each other get out of their situations because, honestly, as you know, you walk into every interview blind, never knowing the rules or being able to see the goalposts.
    The budgeting thing is in principle a good idea as it helps you focus on how your allocation is spent but those sort of changes take time, (time and money) I have joined a Facebook page called ‘surviving Winz’. If nothing else it makes me realise I’m not alone; somedays that song goes through my head: “Yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone..”
    Still, post a bank account number on this website I’ll contribute, thanks again for what you and AAAP do.

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