Dear Ministry for Social Development,
I realise you probably already know this, but just a wee reminder of REALITY. You know – the reality of the vast majority of us who aren’t making ends meet and are struggling to live on benefits, childcare & accommodation supplements and casual work.
Suspending or cancelling benefits & supplements for missing an appointment, or a bit missing off a form – or let’s even try you guys losing a form or your system failing – might make you feel good in your alternative reality that is ‘people need to make better choices and get a job’.
But are you really just punishing the ‘bludger’? Well yes, but you’re ignoring another reality.
The vast majority of ‘bludgers’ don’t spend their benefit on smokes & alcohol. The money goes to: their landlord/flatmates, power provider, the local supermarket, the guy they are paying off their car/repairs to, their kids school, their kids, their ex’s child support, the caring friend they had to borrow $$ off last time this happened, etc etc etc.
So who are you also really hurting? The support network you expect them to be surrounded by? And even more heinously – their children?
No wonder our Child Poverty Action Group is campaigning for a benefit & assistance system that actually works for all who use it. The above scenario is compounding on top of compounding economic problems for individuals, families, support agencies, our communities, our health, justice & housing systems and more. Ministers for Social Development fronting press conferences crowing about how many bludgers they hope to stomp on this year may please the haters but there is no mention of the economic & human impact of these overly punitive and unnecessary reforms.
And before anyone says ‘there’s no excuse to miss an appt’ etc etc etc, – guess what? LIFE HAPPENS. And massive IT systems have glitches. Staff are not perfect. And call centres can ask you to please call back later because we are overloaded for quite some time – triggering suspensions for not contacting them quickly enough.
This blog started out as a Facebook rant after one of my friends was in this very situation this week. Unsurprisingly it only took minutes for many other examples to flood in.
Are all my friends ‘bludgers’? Heck no. They range from tertiary students, to single mums in part time work, to physical labourers, to temporarily unemployed, to highly qualified professionals in full time work, to people with serious disabilities, or whose children are disabled. People of all walks of life have many reasons to need WINZ assistance. And with the gap in equality forever growing, with the cost of living forever increasing as wages generally stay low, with many working families struggling to make ends meet – even having something like a childcare subsidy cancelled can derail everything.
The most common reasons I have heard of anecdotally are:
- Health/surgery – including an emergency c-section the day of an appointment, childcare cancelled after a planned surgery that meant taking a few days off pre-school, serious ill health preventing people from getting to their appointment – right down to a normally healthy person with a tummy bug who can’t get through on the phones that day.
- Out of town looking for work/job interviews/clashes with part time work – someone either unaware of a letter, or ringing to reschedule and speaking to staff who didn’t put in the system properly.
- WINZ losing forms handed in before the due date. Often repeatedly.
- Changes of address/contact details not correctly entered in WINZ’s system.
- Glitches in WINZ’s IT systems cancelling disability & childcare allowances
- Part-time work hours not being recorded correctly.
- Malicious accusations of fraud causing instant cancellation. Often clients in this situation, especially single parents with children have to wait some days for an appointment to provide proof that is quickly & easily available – and even then as Catriona MacLennan recently pointed out, they may not be believed.
It’s time to break out of the ‘bludger’ box Anne Tolley, strategists and policy advisors. There hasn’t been a single independent review of our current welfare system that hasn’t raised serious concerns about the impact of these sanctions on our vulnerable.
It’s also time for all parties in Parliament to agree to the Child Poverty Action Group and the Green Party’s plea for cross-party talks on solutions to poverty & inequality.
We need a welfare system that works, and is that is fair. For everyone. Right now we have neither of these utterly vital provisions – just a punitive system pouncing on the innocent in the hopes of catching this apparently huge underclass of bludgers out at being a bunch of useless ferals – an idea that is continually being proven by their own statistics to be a ridiculously miniscule minority.