GUEST BLOG: Tibby White – An Open Letter To All Beneficiaries


How most sleepy hobbits in muddle Nu Zilind who watch Seven Sharp or The Project think WINZ works

I’m a single woman in her 40’s living alone in a council owned apartment in Wellington. I’m also an undergraduate student, mother of one grown up child, an active member of a nearby community centre, and I absolutely refuse to let the fact I am poor, unemployed and living with a disability, define who I am as a person. Being a beneficiary doesn’t mean I don’t still have dreams and a goal of eventually being able to support myself again. I’m never thrilled at the prospect of needing to book an appointment at my local WINZ office. In fact the only time I ever feel like a second rate citizen in my own country is when I’m forced to leave my dignity at the door of WINZ, and join the queue to plead my case for whatever meagre assistance I may be entitled to. Today was one of those days.

I’m always punctual, but as per usual I wait and wait and wait to be seen. I wait for a good half an hour knowing the parking metre will run out before my name is called. It’s after 4pm. My appointment was 3.30pm. It’s remarkably quiet with only three others waiting in the waiting area. The receptionist informs me they’re short on staff. I’ve heard that one before; staff shortages are obviously a regular occurrence at this particular busy city office. I notice a young Maori woman whose been standing near the reception area since I arrived. She has three lively boisterous pre-schoolers who run about noisily, climbing on chairs and playing with computers. Another child joins them in a raucous game of hide and seek until an official looking woman (who I later learn was the service centre manager) comes over and warns the woman to “control your children please”. They all move to the waiting area and sit quietly. But the little fair haired boy, whose father she did not caution, continues to run amok.

The mother of the three boys is finally called over by the service centre manager. I overhear a conversation about emergency accommodation. The manager tersely tells her that all emergency accommodation in the city is full. WINZ cannot (or will not) help her. She’s visibly upset and leaves. I decide I need to put more money in the parking metre and tell reception that’s what I’m doing. Outside I notice the mother of three is parked right in front of me. I tap on her window. She opens the driver’s door and I say that I overheard the conversation inside and wanted to know if she was okay. She shakes her head no. I ask her if she has anywhere at all to stay. She shakes her head no. She says she doesn’t know anyone in Wellington. She explains that her and her children are in transit, they’re relocating from the North Island to the South. She was supposed to get the Cook Straight ferry but due to the icy winter blast and atrocious weather conditions, all Cook Straight crossings are cancelled for the next two days. Her only option is to spend the next three nights in her car. She has nowhere to go and wipes tears off her face. I ask her name. I tell her to stay where she is, and that I’m going back inside to speak to the manager on her behalf.

I make sure that everyone in the waiting area can hear me when I say in a clear voice to the receptionist that the woman and her three children, who were just sent away, will be sleeping in their car out in the freezing cold tonight. I ask to speak to the manager. The receptionist looks unimpressed and informs me there’s no way in hell she’ll be discussing another client’s situation with me and, besides, I need to come with her because a case manager was now ready to see to me. My needs seem to suddenly pale in comparison. “Actually, I’m more concerned about another client and the unsatisfactory non-existent assistance she’s just received, than I am for myself”, I say when my case manager asks how she can help me today. She takes my paperwork, processes it, and agrees to relay my concerns to the service centre manager. I then sit and watch as the same cold, bereft of all compassion, well-to-do desensitized woman in charge is told that someone who just overheard her decision at reception wants to challenge it. Both women make a beeline to the cubicle where I’m sitting.

To my complete astonishment all of a sudden it appears to be perfectly acceptable to be ‘discussing another client’s situation’ with me. The service centre manager goes to great lengths to impress upon me that there was ‘more to the story’ explaining that Storm (not her real name) was supposed to make an appointment to apply for emergency accommodation assistance ‘accompanied by a plan’. Who on earth has ‘a plan’ in the midst of an emergency? She also adds that her office has been inundated with emergency accommodation requests all day and only outer areas of Wellington would have vacancies left. It’s now 4.30pm. Only half an hour left till closing time. But incredibly the manager backs down and agrees to help Storm.

She can’t believe her luck, and neither can I. I offer to stay and sit with her as a support person. But before we are even seated in front of yet another case manager, a phone call to a Holiday Park to make the booking for a self-contained family unit for the next three nights has already been made. Full costs are to be paid immediately into Storm’s bank account. The service centre manager is now a completely different person from the one who turfed her out twenty minutes earlier. Almost bending over backwards to be both friendly and obliging the manager is as nice as pie, and even tells someone to print Storm out a map for directions to her new temporary home. Storm’s so relieved she bear hugs me and I wish her all the best. Walking past the security guards manning the door (whose beady eyes have been on me the entire time) they smile and give me the thumbs up.

TDB Recommends

For what though? Opening your mouth because you can’t stomach the thought that a single mum and her kids are facing the miserable reality of sleeping rough during the coldest snap all winter shouldn’t be a difficult thing for anyone to do. One beneficiary advocating on behalf of another beneficiary, because they’re aghast at seeing a fellow human being given a raw and rotten deal, ought to be a no brainer. Especially when you already know from personal experience how it feels to be given the cold shoulder and massive run-around by such a mean spirited and punitive organisation – one that possesses zero empathy or compassion for people with individual and complex needs. This service centre manager clearly did not do her job, and her initial decision was wrong. The sudden about face, when questioned, spoke volumes.

But I guess when the government appointed a social development minister in 2008, who then singlehandedly made it her number one mission for six years to turn beneficiary bashing into a national pastime (despite the fact she was once one herself), the mentality and the culture within WINZ is hardly surprising. How many people simply forgo their entitlements in order to avoid the humiliation and stigmatisation of dealing with WINZ? How many people like Storm, who are sent away with nothing, not even given a chance to fully explain their situation, choose to avoid applying for WINZ help the next time they’re in strife because of their previous bad experience?

When working families now don’t earn enough to make ends meet, either, and are also forced to jump through hoops for WINZ handouts in order to survive, it’s time people solely reliant on benefits stop feeling like underclass citizens. Because any one of us, for a myriad of reasons, could lose a job, experience a relationship breakdown, suffer an unexpected debilitating health problem, and wind up having to fill out WINZ application forms. I’ve never met anyone who chose the benefit as a lifestyle choice. And that includes beneficiaries with mental health and addiction problems who sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of the law, as well. Don’t ever point the finger or cast judgement if you’ve never walked a day in their shoes or listened to their stories. Take the time to listen and you will hear about desperation, tragedy, and unbelievable hardships that will shock you to your core, positively break your heart, and even inspire you to soften your stance.

Do not listen to the self-serving politicians who use us all as political footballs come election time to score brownie points and ultimately votes. National’s data-driven social welfare policies currently reduces people on welfare to numbers, and Labour also stands accused of their share of questionable and unfair policy practices that have done zip to alleviate unimaginable suffering among long term beneficiaries. Two sides of the same coin, both parties have perpetuated the current vicious cycle of poverty and inequality that puts the entire country to shame. Neither party have a proven record of solutions that involve a shred of humanity. Beneficiaries have been for far too long lumped into one large group, tarred with the same brush of being no hopers, useless parents, nothing but bludgers who misspend tax payers’ money. Nothing could be further than the truth. That’s not my experience or the actuality of beneficiaries I know. Parents on welfare want the best for their kids too, and do strive to do all they can with what little they have. The lies and long held myths about who we are must stop!

I write this as a beneficiary to other beneficiaries to ask that next time you’re sitting waiting to have your needs assessed at your local WINZ office please keep your ears and eyes open to others around you. If you hear something that sounds a bit off or you witness someone being turned away, without first sitting down with a case manager, please take notice. If you see someone looking distressed or upset at being unfairly treated, there is nothing to stop you quietly approaching and asking one simple question – Are You OK? There is nothing to stop beneficiaries from engaging with each other in what can be an intimidating environment, where having to plead your case can be scary and mean the difference between just getting by that week, or going without even more than usual. Never ever underestimate the stress and anxiety that goes hand in hand with constantly not having enough to live on. Poverty is a killer. It destroys people not just physically, but mentally as well.

We’re afforded such little privacy upon presenting ourselves to the office of WINZ that overhearing things we shouldn’t is a routine and common occurrence. We’re all basically heaped in the same impersonal boat together (they make jolly sure of it) so no harm in offering a fellow beneficiary a friendly smile or just an acknowledging look of understanding, right? If a nod of recognition or sympathetic response from a total stranger is all you actually manage to walk out of that wretched place with then at least, momentarily, one small show of kindness from the number who’s sat next to you may relieve the sting of being slapped in the face and sent on your way with nothing. Because quite frankly, so long as those who work for WINZ manage to dot the i’s and cross the t’s; ensuring all the right boxes have been ticked, then that entire State-operated machine couldn’t give a stuff if you lived or died.

‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.’


A friend you just haven’t met yet.


  1. This National government’s underlying policy is to make the term “beneficiary” into a dirty word.
    Similar words used throughout history include: nithing, vagabond, untouchable, leper, outcast, pariah et al…
    To National, people who need (not want, but NEED) state assistance are just as odious and part of the treatment is to dehumanise them as much as possible.
    A caring society, such as we used to have in NZ would not accept that.
    So why should we?




  3. Didnt read the full article , – didnt have to . Ive had run ins with WINZ before and they were the same. Arseholes. Except one particular time I had them over a barrel in a legal sense, Thanks to my security training.

    I pointed out they would be complicit in breaking the law- as in fraud.

    I got the managing director after putting it bluntly and was treated like royalty.

    They have become a pack of shitheads many of them. Lazy , little public servants who have been given a sense of power over people by their management laying down the law to them and for those without principle , they have lapped that up like dogs.

    Its no wonder so many of them are now held in contempt. But Ive got a message for them : you’re times coming and there is going to be a change in administration. And you will be treated like the archaic dinosaurs you are and they way you deserve to be treated.

    Don’t fuck with the NZ public.

  4. Well written worth reading too.
    Paints a grim but clear picture of how we got to where we as a society at this point in our history.
    keep writing Tibby.

  5. Amazing what having some level of support does! Well done, Tibby!

    You should activate the beneficiary community to vote the current The National Party, ACT and The Maori Party out, because WINZ is only going to get worse if there is another 3 years of the current administration.

    Probably the only reason WINZ gave the parent and kids accomodation is that they were worried it would be made public and the government is trying to keep the worsening homeless situation under wraps before the election.

    After the election, the The National Party won’t be providing any help, apart from for billionaires desperately needing government help, is my guess.

    • Thanks very much. To be honest I don’t actually know what I would’ve done had WINZ not helped her. Hard to kick up a stink and go public while also respecting someone’s privacy. I just knew in my gut that what I was seeing was so spectacularly wrong. Probably helped that the place was empty. Had it been busy the very short exchange between the mum and the manager would’ve gone unnoticed and she’d have just slipped out unnoticed. Makes you wonder how some of those managers, who I presume are mothers themselves, can bloody sleep at night. Cheers.

  6. Hello Tibby,

    Hope you don’t mind but I’ve just read this out to a friend of mine in England (over Skype)who has been going through hell with their equivalent, Department of Work and Pensions (who somehow even trump how bad WINZ are!)
    She’s said to pass on that what you’ve written here is worth a round of applause, as do I.

    On behalf of all beneficiaries, thank you for such an eloquently worded summary of how it is. This needs to be sent to the media and all MPs. While it’s sadly a given certain ones will ignore it, hopefully it might tweak a slight conscience in a few.

    Do we have you permission to circulate this, by email and social media?

    • Thank you for your kind feedback, it means a lot. Please share it however you see fit. I posted the letter on my FB page and it’s set to public. You can find it by searching Tibby White (Wellington). And yeah I do know the UK equivalent to our Winz is also extremely grim. The eye-opening film by Ken Loach ‘I, Daniel Blake’ suddenly springs to mind. Well worth a watch if you and your friend haven’t already seen it.

  7. Lest we forget.

    NZ’s two richest men own more wealth than poorest 30%

    Why? Because they have $-power and you do not. All you have is thousands and thousands of other people in a similar position. People like you.
    What does that say to you?

    Does it say ‘ acquiesce’ or does it say ‘ fight! ‘ It’s a very, very old conundrum.
    The very riche would surely rejoice in your ‘freedom’ to chose to go either way.
    You could have sat in that waiting room waiting but you chose to stand up and fight. Ever thought of becoming a prime minister?
    God knows, we need one.

  8. Your story is a sickening reminder of where we have come under this National regime. I call it a regime, not government, because they wish you to bow to their superiority. How dare you challenge the establishment, how dare you care for the less fortunate.
    It has been clear since coming into government, that the mandate has been to neglect all social aspects of society. The evidence is clear in the way, the then social development minister in 2008, forgave privacy rights of individuals, criminalised individuals as she roughshod her way to be the now deputy prime minister. I can only describe this as sickening.

    As you have pointed out and is severely worth repeating…

    ‘Rise like Lions after slumber
    In unvanquishable number –
    Shake your chains to earth like dew
    Which in sleep had fallen on you –
    Ye are many – they are few.’

  9. Thank you for writing this Tibby. And thank you for having the empathy and nous to help the mother. As we all should.

    I have experienced all that you have expressed. Never, ever have I had to wait less than half an hour to be ‘seen’. And yet we’re referred to as clients. What a bloody joke that is.
    And yes Labour’s performance has been no better than National’s, making them just as guilty.
    I don’t expect NZ First to propose changes that will make a jot of difference to beneficiaries either.
    Because the unenviable situation the ‘beneficiary’ is in, (other than Rio Tinto et al of course), is understood by the rarest politician.

    Some, who have such experience, like the abused becomes the abuser, pull up the ladder that they so eagerly climbed.

    • … ” Some, who have such experience, like the abused becomes the abuser, pull up the ladder that they so eagerly climbed ” …

      Paula Bennett.

      And to think we have that deranged psycho as a Deputy Prime Minister.

      That says it all. We need to get rid of this government pronto. And we also need to stop majoring on petty differences between party’s and vote en masse and vote strategically.

      It can be done and we the New Zealanders can do it.

      And we should.

  10. So well done. Especially to manage to keep your cool and not end up ‘red flagged’. That’s the key.

    I still think its a real loss to the Greens not having Sue Bradford on board. She is one of the few politicians who you know looks critically at these issues and could have helped keep a Labour/Green/NZ First Government on task when it comes to Beneficiaries issues.

    • Well I didn’t agree with the smacking law thing but Sue Bradford sure earns my respect. There was nothing like seeing that woman courageously crashing those security / police lines and making damn sure those politicians guilty of social abuse heard the message loud and clear.

      And then serving in parliament . We need far , far more like Sue Bradford in parliament crashing the walls of neo liberalism . In fact , – we desperately need far more JUST like her to stick it to these neo liberal globalist scumbags not just in central government , – but local body’s as well.

  11. Yes…lets make collecting money from the taxpayer so easy that there is no hassles nor indeed any mental stress. And wish there is no awkward questioning about looking for work eh? ….welcome to a Lab/Green govt!
    Have to ask…remember when the ‘rules’ changed where you had to turn up weekly in person and…OMG hundreds and thousands suddenly dropped off the benefit claims…wonder why eh?

    • Righto, Imright. Feel free to pay for all your education and hospital visits from now on, ok?


      “and…OMG hundreds and thousands suddenly dropped off the benefit claims…wonder why eh?”

      Probably because of the sheer complexity of what was demanded from applicants, Imright;

      One of the bureacratic bundles of red tape are the number of forms issued to WINZ applicants.

      For those readers who have never had the “delight” of dealing with WINZ – these are the forms that are required to be filled out. Note: every single applicant is given these forms (in a little plastic carry-bag).

      And if you have to reapply to WINZ for a benefit (if, say, you’ve lost your job again) you are required to fill out these forms all over again.

      This is where taxpayer’s money is really going to waste in welfare.

      All up, seventythree pages of information and forms to read, understand, fill out, to collect information


      Seventythree pages from WINZ for a benefit.

      Eight pages from a bank for a mortgage.


    • Your a pillock, “Im right”. And no, your not “right”. (Why do right wing nutters always seem to adopt pseudonyms like “Im Right” and “Voice of Reason”?)

      Well, Tibby is bloody heroic. Anyone who has to deal with the dreaded WINZ bureaucracy is taking on a whole world of hurt. Those buggers are NOT THERE TO HELP. They make the IRD look like the Salvation Army!

      Wish you well, Tibby. You have more support than you realise, irrespective of dicks like “Im right”.

    • Assuming you are a human being, and not just a bot seeding key messages onto opposition blogs, one day you or someone you care about might find yourself in need of a hand up, despite your best efforts. Even John Key once found himself living in a state house due to his Mum falling on hard times. If and when that happens, you will understand how infuriating it is when people make these kinds of patronizing generalizations about those less fortunate than themselves. Fortunately government policy will not be based on such ignorant prejudices for much longer.

    • “wonder why eh?” Not at all.


      WINZ is a deadend for job seekers. Their inability to engage with employers and connect job-seekers with those offering work – that’s a joke.

      If you’ve bothered to watch even the trailer for ‘I, Daniel Blake’ – it’s like that here, too. Futile.

      Again, today, two pieces on the news about staffing shortages in hospitality and construction. Justifying immigration? Probably.

      But that BS story has been going the rounds in this country since the 1950s. And we STILL haven’t sussed it out? We STILL haven’t shaped our education and training and development? And we STILL believe the ‘great and good’ who tell us these patented lies?

      What a bunch of suckers. Now aren’t we, though.

      If our wondrous government, those great ones who manage economies and are so prudent with other people’s money, could actually do their work – no one need have stress or hassles when applying for social assistance. It is not necessary when there’s work enough and reward that’s fair, without dipping into the tax payer pockets.

      And those paragons, the employer class, could stop passing their obligation to train up their staff onto tax payers – if they can wean themselves off the old private profit, public debt model.

      What do you reckon, IMRIGHT? Could the cunning right ever get their heads around that stress?

  12. Thank you for writing this Tibby and for standing up for another beneficiary’s welfare (welfare being a word which has been so far twisted from its original meaning by WINZ). I have a WINZ appointment next Wednesday, for which I am taking an advocate. The risk is that if you speak up too loudly for your own rights, let alone someone else’s, you can be trespassed for ‘threatening behaviour’, which I am fairly certain includes any statements critical of government policy and suggesting that there might be a better way to support people in need eg Universal Basic Income

  13. The thing that amazes me is that WINZ is allowed to get away with the dehumanising, disrespect, and obvious prejudice toward people that have no other choice than to land there for help… My experience with them has been close to identacle to Tibby’s. I have never had an appointment that was on time from the WINZ side of the bench, but heaven forbid if you miss an appointment with this Mob! You can have your benefit stopped immediately in the worst case. Speak out in protest and get slapped with a warning saying, curb your behaviour or next time you’ll be issued a Trespass notice and won’t be allowed through the door for 2 yrs… Question a decision??? If the form you fill in makes any ripples in their world it gets completely buried and never see’s the light of day again. Ask for a copy of your files and get added to the Black List. But, see, “we’re helping you” is the saying of the decade… We should all start a CLass Action Legal Case against Paula B, Anne T, and every Business Centre Manager and their hench-people client managers! In my case, being a divorced older male means you beat up everything with a dress and are a secret kiddy fiddler in the manner you’re treated. The last bit may be unique to the WINZ office I am serving time for my supper… but, it may be a “Taught in Training” thing, I don’t know. The only people who might not flinch in pain when dealing with our Social Servants at WINZ are most likely Masochistic or Cloistered….

    • Hi Michael I was fortunate to encounter a decent, sympathetic WINZ case manager yesterday. It probably helped that I am pakeha, articulate and know my rights and the ins and outs of the benefit system. I also had a very good advocate with me. I realise that this is not the experience of many and you really need to be on top of things to get your entitlements. It shouldn’t be a matter of sheer luck that you get the support you need at WINZ – yes there are laws and regulations, but they seem to employ many staff who lack compassion and are themselves just there to earn money. Let’s hope that if Labour-Greens are the next government, they will overhaul the whole social welfare system and also dump the Social Security Act rewrite

  14. I have just read about the new greens welfare reform on stuff – the comments section is horrendous and disturbing. .. truly awful and practically baying for beneficiaries blood.

    Yes it’s Stuff but we have a long way to go unfortunately.
    Well done Tibby! You’re a legend!!

  15. When it comes to disability Labour and National can be lumped together in some aspects.
    Labour introduced a disability strategy that turned out to be sheltered workshops had to compete with regular businesses for work and each member of that sheltered workshop is assessed to what level of payment they deserve – they get a percentage of the minimum wage.
    Over the years the funding has continued to decrease.
    National just introduced an update to that strategy and now its nothing but lip service and zero help.

    I’m not mentally disabled but I am physically and I walk funny.
    I have a lovely CV full of holes from all the surgery I have had but because my CV is all along one line of employment – computer tech I keep landing interviews but they see me coming and say no every time.

    I was once a beneficiary on and off throughout my life till I was 35 and got married to someone who works and now I get zero help from the system.
    Somehow because my wife works I am on my own to find employment.

    The problem is National came along and meddled with well established policies to help all disabled people and made it become selective, VERY selective.
    I was getting an accommodation supplement which gave me a technicality to gain a placement under Labour for a job using the Mainstream Programme but now since somehow my circumstances have changed I no longer qualify for this accommodation supplement (even though the rent increases have exceeded what meager income the wife makes) so now because I don’t get any form of benefit I don’t qualify with assistance to get a job.
    My support worker and I have had meetings with WINZ and it all boils down to the lack of any benefit means zero help.

    Discrimination in this country is HUGE, I have spent most of my life unemployed and having to deal with this bullshit, apparently its not like this in other countries, well not as bad and the disabled are helped into work, not here, here its all about the rich getting richer, families and the insatiable habit of investing in houses, our politicians should all be shot, they don’t give a shit, all of them are just in it for themselves but now is the time when they try to look like they care so they can remain at the trough and produce mediocre polices as a result

    • I have a 25 year old diabetic friend in exactly the same situation as you without a benefit or job .

      Him and his fiancee live in a garage and dont even qualify for a housing corp house all the while his health just gets worse and worse.

  16. Metiria Turei has publicly admitted that she had to lie to WINZ to make ends meet, like so many others have to. Dunedin South MP Clare Curran set up a tent in the Octagon last night, and says she will continue her occupation until two homeless women get secure accomodation:

    Yes, Labour have a debt to pay for their role in Rogernomics, and for their failure to restore benefits to pre-1990 levels under Clark. But the Labour of 2017 appear to be a genuinely different beast to the Blairite Labour of the last few decades, as indicated by their willingness to govern with the Greens. Meanwhile, the NatACT attitude to social welfare is summed up nicely by the comments above made under the name I’m Right. To say National and Labour are as bad as each other is false balance.

    I recently met a guy on the street in Ōtepoti, jobless and homeless. In order to get into a job, he needed a home, so he could scrub up for interviews. To get a home, he needed a benefit. To get a benefit he needed a bank account. To get a bank account, he needed two forms of photo ID.

    To even enter a WINZ office, explain his circumstances, and ask for emergency help, he needed an appointment and photo ID. So this man was living in a tent in the middle of winter while he waited for his photo ID to be arrive. This is exactly the vicious cycle of circumstances the social welfare system was set up to keep people from falling into. We can and must do better as a country to care for the most vulnerable members of our communities.

  17. Thank you Tibby. I wonder when the WINZ TV reality show will appear, with NZ on Air funding of course ? Identities protected, lol. A sad and tragic reality for any citizen of New Zealand.

  18. Hi PhilG Yes I wonder when. We have already had the UK and Oz bene scroungers reality shows.

  19. I think the fact that there is no privacy is just awful. A friend of mine who had a terminal illness (she has recently died at age 50) and who needed to in the first time in her life apply for a benefit because she could no longer work anymore. She tearfully told me her story after it happened.
    She sat in her wheelchair with her husband at WINZ (who was working at night and taking care of her and their children in the day), for over two hours waiting for her appointment and started crying. Only one person asked if she was ok. She said no, but they did nothing.
    Then after the long wait, they were ushered to a desk where she had to tell her terminal illness and financial story where everyone could hear. There was no dignity. She cried the whole time and her husband probably was crying inside too Awful.
    She got the disability benefit but what an awful experience to put a terminal ill NZ citizen through in the last days of their lives. Terrible terrible. WINZ and the politicians that support their cruel treatment of beneficiaries should be ashamed. I cry again. 🙁

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