Have you ever asked for help and hated having to ask? Then you can empathise with Metiria.

By   /   July 25, 2017  /   10 Comments

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Thanks to my socioeconomic privilege, it is unlikely (not to say impossible) that I will ever end up as dependent on our corrupt welfare system as Metiria once was. And I don’t pretend to know exactly how that dependency felt for Metiria, because I can’t know. Maybe I can’t know, but I can guess. Because I can guess, I can empathise with her.

Paralympian and blogger Aine Kelly Costello

My story

Last semester, I asked for a grade change accommodation on account of my disability, for the first—and I hope the only—time in my life. The change was for a test weighted at 10%, where I received a grade two brackets lower than my average grade in the paper. An assortment of unforeseen factors meant that I simply could not keep up with the pace of that particular test. I’d worked particularly hard on this course all semester to get the grades I had otherwise been achieving, and I couldn’t stand for circumstances outside of my control to get the better of my overall grade. So, I wrote a very careful, detailed email to my lecturer and copied in Disability Services. I suggested a couple possible remedies. One of them, namely taking my average grade in my course as the grade for that test, was accepted as fair by both parties, and my grade was modified (it went up 13%).

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Metiria Turei’s story

I do not pretend to speak for Metiria, but as she recounted last week, her story went something like this.

When Metiria was a single mother studying towards her Law degree, the benefit that she was entitled to under Work and Income was not sufficient to feed herself and her baby. In order to afford keeping food on the table, her rent had to be split between flatmates. She did not disclose the existence of these flatmates to Work and Income, because Work and Income would have slashed her benefit if she did.

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My story: from the inside

I hated the fact that I had to write that email to my lecturer and Disability Services. I felt a little bit guilty, because maybe in hindsight, there were a couple mitigating factors I could have thought of that would have made the grade drop less severe(never mind that the same forethought would not have been necessary from my peers). I felt frustrated that, despite the many other relevant factors, my disability stood out as being a burden and the cause of extra stress in the final days of semester. I hated the fact that I had to accept that I was taking a concession—even though I was convinced (as was my lecturer, obviously), that I deserved it given the circumstances.

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My story, on a factual level, has something in common with Metiria’s. We both asked an authority to help us, to alleviate a problem we had no power to lessen on our own, owing to circumstances outside our control. But I suspect our stories, on the inside, share even more. It’s reasonable to suppose that Metiria felt a measure of guilt, however unjustified, for not being able to provide for her child without a benefit. She must have been frustrated that the deck of socioeconomic standing was stacked against her. I’ll bet she hated the fact that she was obliged to spend some time raising her little girl on the welfare system.

That is where the similarities between our stories end.

In my story, I told a truth to a system that functioned well enough to remedy the problem to the general satisfaction of all involved. Disability Services were satisfied, my lecturer was satisfied, and I was basically satisfied. I felt relieved, exonerated almost.

In Metiria’s story, she had no choice but to lie to the system in order to get the system to cooperate. She had to avoid her legal obligation to disclose her living arrangements to Work and Income in order to feed herself and her little one. So on top of the guilt, frustration and hate no doubt there came resentment at the heartlessness of the system, and above all, fear. There could be no solution for Metiria within the existing Work and Income framework because if the system did tried to fix itself, it would attempt to balance itself out by asking the legally culpable party, Metiria, to provide more of exactly what Metiria did not have.

But from the inside, there was no solution because the system had Metiria’s pent up emotions held captive. That is a road to breaking people, to destroying their spirit. As Metiria notes, the Work and Income system contributed substantially to breaking at least one woman entirely. She committed suicide after Work and Income accused her of fraud, and while being chased for debt.

Thanks to my socioeconomic privilege, it is unlikely (not to say impossible) that I will ever end up as dependent on our corrupt welfare system as Metiria once was. And I don’t pretend to know exactly how that dependency felt for Metiria, because I can’t know. Maybe I can’t know, but I can guess. Because I can guess, I can empathise with her.

To me, the greatest indignity in Metiria’s story is the fact that, in the very moment when she was brave enough and vulnerable enough to tell us the truth, many New Zealanders attacked her personal integrity. They showed her, and the rest of us, that the societal roots of Work and Income’s ruthlessness may lie considerably deeper in our country’s culture than we expected or would like to believe. I will keep hoping that we can collectively show Metiria that empathy can rule the day. It must, if we are to give the Greens a chance to fix Work and Income and mend the safety net.

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10 Comments

  1. Valleyman says:

    Im on an invalids benefit & rather than ask winz for any sort of help apart from the basic invalids benefit, I will go without food or whatever to get by in life. I refuse to be talked to in the way the case managers talk to me, it makes me feel like Im a burden to the case manager personally & that they want me to die sooner than later. They treat you like you are the scum of the earth.

  2. Aine Kelly Costello has a wealth of empathy She wrote:

    We both asked an authority to help us, to alleviate a problem we had no power to lessen on our own, owing to circumstances beyond our control. But I suspect our stories, on the inside, share even more. It’s reasonable to suppose that Metiria felt a measure of guilt, however unjustified, for not being able to provide for her child without a benefit. She must have been frustrated that the deck of socioeconomic standing was stacked against her. I’ll bet she hated the fact that she was obliged to spend some time raising her little girl on the welfare system.
    That is where the similarities between our stories end.

    What Aine displays here with her words clearly indicates an understanding of what Metiria was confronting, yet still conceding that their circumstances differed.

    In my story, I told a truth to a system that functioned well enough to remedy the problem to the general satisfaction of all involved. Disability Services were satisfied, my lecturer was satisfied, and I was basically satisfied. I felt relieved, exonerated almost.
    In Metiria’s story, she had no choice but to lie to the system in order to get the system to cooperate. She had to avoid her legal obligation to disclose her living arrangements to Work and Income in order to feed herself and her little one. So on top of the guilt, frustration and hate, no doubt there developed resentment at the heartlessness of the system, and above all, fear. There could be no solution for Metiria within the existing Work and Income framework because if the system did tried to fix itself, it would attempt to balance itself out by asking the legally culpable party, Metiria, to provide more of exactly what Metiria did not have”.

    The above paragraphs show the compassion that Aine obviously feels and it is mixed with a comprehensive element of adult reasoning. This gives me great faith in the humanity of thousands of our young people and I hope it does the same for you. She went on to say:

    “But from the inside, there was no solution because the system had Metiria’s pent up emotions held captive. That is a road to breaking people, to destroying their spirit. As Metiria notes, the Work and Income system contributed substantially to breaking at least one woman entirely. She committed suicide after Work and Income accused her of fraud, and while being chased for debt.
    Thanks to my socioeconomic privilege, it is unlikely (not to say impossible) that I will ever end up as dependent on our corrupt welfare system as Metiria once was. And I don’t pretend to know exactly how that dependency felt for Metiria because I can’t know. Maybe I can’t know, but I can guess. Because I can guess, I can empathise with her”.

    In many respects, the above two paragraphs show Aine to be as equally as brave as Metiria was at the Greens successful conference, for I think it must be really difficult to bare ones history publicly. Her last couple of paragraphs gives her reasons for deciding her reactions they too tell it like it is.

    “To me, the greatest indignity in Metiria’s story is the facts that, in the very moment when she was brave enough and vulnerable enough to tell us the truth, many New Zealanders attacked her personal integrity. They showed her, and the rest of us, that the societal roots of Work and Income’s ruthlessness may lie considerably deeper in our country’s culture than we expected or would like to believe. I will keep hoping that we can collectively show Metiria that empathy can rule the day. It must if we are to give the Greens a chance to fix Work and Income and mend the safety net”.

    Those posting hate filled responses to Whale-Oil and Kiwi Blog proves Aine Kelly’s words above was and are necessary, it is our culture [white male dominated] that needs alteration in the direction of empathy rather than blame and hate.

    Cameron Slater [Whale-Oil] and David Farrar [Kiwi Blog] should go back to Israel and live there…for good. Oh and in passing did they both declare the income earned and the fares paid for them by Israel to the IRD.

  3. Priss says:

    The attacks on Metiria speak more of the intolerance and hatred that some have toward the poor and the vulnerable than anything that Metiria did to survive. The self-righteous who attack her have obviously led blameless lives?

    No, it’s not that. The reason they’re attacking her is she dared to speak out. Not for what she did. Everyone KNOWS that WINZ is a horrible place and that benefits are insufficient to live on. Otherwise why did the Nats raise it by $20 a week, this year?

    So the system is rorted because people must rort to survive.

    Metiria’s “crime” is that she put her hand up and told us how bad it really it.

    An unforgivable sin, in the eyes of the Privileged.

    • Jono says:

      She has done good thing. In that she will attract many of the missing million voters. A bold meaningful statement is rare in politics these days and people will appreciate it. The right wing privileged will alwayz be haters of the left anyway.

  4. patricia bremner says:

    Thank you Aine Kelly Costello.

    Your heartfelt plea hopefully will give pause for those baying for blood.

    Perhaps they will examine their anger, and redirect it to Govt/ MSD.

    Generosity of spirit is needed, and imagination.

    Around the time this took place for Metiria, I knew a young distraught father of two, WHO AFTER HIS WIFE DIED was trying to manage on $80.00 a WEEK!!!!

    Paul East was our local national member (small m) whose daily allowance was $180.00 A DAY!!!!!

  5. patricia bremner says:

    Thank you Aine Kelly Costello.

    Your heartfelt plea hopefully will give pause for those baying for blood.

    Perhaps they will examine their anger, and redirect it to Govt/ MSD.

    Generosity of spirit is needed, and imagination.

    Around the time this took place for Metiria, I knew a young distraught father of two, WHO AFTER HIS WIFE DIED was trying to manage on $80.00 a WEEK!!!!

    Paul East was our local national member (small m) whose daily allowance was $180.00 A DAY!!!!!

  6. Jack says:

    A true green she keeps the branches others would throw on the fire and finds something for them of value.

  7. Mike the Lefty says:

    I suspect that those most vociferous about Metiria and people like her have never ever had to deal with WINZ.
    I am probably eligible for a Supplementary Services card, but the rigmarole involved in getting it is not simply not worth the small amount of money it would actually save me. I prefer to keep my dignity intact and stay well clear of this modern recreation of Dickensian society.
    I am fortunate enough to have only had to deal with the forerunner of WINZ (DSW) for about 18 months, and that was over 20 years ago.
    It was bad enough then, and it is far worse now, judging by harrowing accounts from people who have done it.
    The smug buggers from the political right have set up the system this way because they figure they will never have to use it. They will never be unemployed, made redundant, or have to leave employment to look after a sick member of their family.
    That is why they don’t care what happens to you or me, or anyone else outside their self-proclaimed world of privilege.
    I used to believe that it was still driven by some altruism, but that it was perpetually and badly run.
    Now I believe it is deliberate policy to dehumanise the people that need to use it because it makes the political right bastards feel good.
    Godzone in action.
    Ha!