This is not my story

First of all, thank you. Thank you for the support, the offers of assistance, and the huge amount of information I’ve been given around complaints, reviews, and advocacy procedures. It’s incredible.

I certainly never expected such a response.

And you know why I got this response? Because this is not my story. This is not about my terror, my humiliation, and my $40 a week.

This is about the hundreds, thousands, of people who have the exact same experience with the system they rely on to survive.

There’s a reason I’m sitting here writing this, even though I’m exhausted and I’m in pain and I’m feeling pretty damn overwhelmed, by both the positive and the negative responses to my story.

The reason is: we shouldn’t need this abundant plethora of advocacy services and complaints procedures and review processes. 

We need these things because of systemic, consistent and widespread failure in the New Zealand welfare system as managed by the Ministry of Social Development. 

This is not a new problem. It is not a unique problem. You only have to read the comments on my last post to get a sense of how terribly, terribly commonplace it is to be treated badly by WINZ. To have your important, private, expensive documents to be lost by WINZ. To walk in to a WINZ office feeling terrified. To walk out of a WINZ office feeling degraded, defeated, and in tears.

Why? Why is this allowed to continue? Many people have said that if they, in their jobs, so consistently “lost” paperwork and caused customers to cry, they would have been fired. And yet, it goes on. In every town, in every community, across New Zealand.

This is not just a result of the latest welfare reforms. This is a deepseated cultural and political problem that leads to repeated, widespread procedural misconduct.

We can’t respond to every case with advocacy services. The truth is – I might be writing this, but it’s going to wreck me. I don’t have the energy or the fight left in me to enlist an advocate, to research the process, to lay complaints, to ask for reviews. I know that many other sick people will not either. We already have enough on our plates just trying to keep a weak grip on the entitlement we do have.

I also know for a fact that the review and complaints processes are just as broken as the rest of the system. My friend Chris has been trying to get extra help, and a decision reviewed, for months. He’s gotten nowhere. If you think my story is sad, his is gutwrenching. (Click the “welfare” tag on his site and you’ll see).

I’ve had several Members of Parliament (Labour and Green) step forward and ask me how they can help. This is my message to you.

Thank you. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for hearing me.

I don’t need help getting my $40 p/week back. It’s gone. What I need is for this culture of utter incompetence to change. What I need is for all these voices (see the comments on previous blog) to be met with the kindness and compassion and humanity they deserve. What I need is for this to be an election issue. What I need is for it to be talked about in the most important places in New Zealand politics – your house, your offices.

I have contacted my local MPs to hear their thoughts. I would like Questions asked in Parliament. I would like to know what Paula Bennet is going to do about the fact sick people are starving on her watch. About the fact that people go into WINZ offices and are treated like less than human beings.

About giving more support to the WINZ frontline staff, whose time would be better spent getting some customer training than clapping for having forced someone off the benefit. They are clearly underresourced, since my case manager loses my files and can’t find the time to get back to me about the money that is my only lifeline until I literally turn up on her doorstep.

People have said: “You shouldn’t have to talk to a Minister about operational services.” In this case, we do, because the operational services aren’t working.

If they were, we wouldn’t need the Benefits Rights Service, BUWTA, Benefit Education Services Trust, CAB, the Health and Disability Commission, the Privacy Commission, our local MPs, community law and so many other organisations and dignitaries to get involved just so we could get the basic entitlement from the social welfare system.

It’s broken. But it’s not beyond repair.

By all means, use my story as an example. I’ll come to Wellington. I’ll stand in the House, with my cane, and I’ll explain what it is like to try and live like this. This is the human cost. This is what the face of welfare looks like.

Please, if you do nothing else, go and read the comments on the last post. (There are some nasty ones, of course, be prepared). These are real people’s stories. This is the reality. I am not alone.

5 Replies to “This is not my story”

  1. Doloras LaPicho

    If only it was “failure”. I’ve got a pretty good suspicion that it’s done that way on purpose. They* want to break, infantilise and humiliate everyone who comes in, to make them accept any awful job, or just to leave them alone. It’s called “the discipline of the market”. Depression and misery drives wages down.

    (*That’s the system I’m talking about. Just like the guards at Dachau, some WINZ staff are lovely and helpful, some are sadistic bastards, and some just do their jobs.)

  2. Devon

    Just found your blog via a friend on facebook. Glad to know someone is speaking up.
    As a young male with depression, going through the whole process of getting on the sickness benefit made me fell sick and I firmly believe had it not been so difficult I would have been able to get back on my feet quicker.
    However, this was no the case and have only just now felt able to try get a job.
    Cheers for voicing your intellegent opinion as it has made me feel good, like someone else does care.
    You are awesome.

    1. Chris Miller

      I’m the Chris Sarah mentions above. My first nervous breakdown back in… the end of 2004, I think (though ofc the technical term is “major depressive episode”) was actually caused by attitudes about the sickness benefit and the sort of person that relies on welfare. I got out of a bad relationship, came home, went straight back to work, worked two jobs to support myself and fell apart. I’ve just turned 29 now and I’ve been on and off benefits through my whole 20s, often having relapses when I try to push myself back into work or study too fast. I’d been doing much better the last three years but I can feel it happening again and it’s absolutely devastating.

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