Today I had another appointment at Work and Income. It lasted for two hours (they’re usually 30 minutes at most), and I was met at the doorway by the Regional Director.
People have asked me if the appointment went well, or badly. I’m finding that hard to quantify, so I’m just going to write it all down and you see what you think.
First of all, the appointment wasn’t a result of the “storm” I’ve “unleashed” (in the words of Maryan Street!) I asked for it, because the last one went so unsuccessfully. It was arranged by email with my case manager.
Last night, I had a very unexpected phone call – from the Regional Director of WINZ Nelson/Marlborough. She was ringing to extend an apology for “the service I have received.” I suggested that perhaps we ought to have a discussion in person, and could she email me to organise that? She did so immediately. I didn’t reply straight away – I wasn’t sure how to, really. This is not an apology that means a lot to me. It’s not an apology I want to accept.
Needless to say, I was a little surprised to walk into the Nelson office today (with my support person) – and be approached by her. She offered to discuss my case with me. Feeling unnerved, I asked if it was possible to have my appointment with my case manager first. She escorted me personally. This was starting to feel a little bit different to how I was treated last week…
(I realised, at this point, that I was carrying my laptop with me, which may have seemed something like walking in there with an unsheathed sword.)
Here’s the key points from the meeting with my case manager – who I want to thank personally, because she is trying to do her best, within policy that is utterly shameful. I hope she reads this.
1. My documents were never lost – they were filed incorrectly, which is, really, not that much better. They have been returned to me.
2. You may remember, last week I was given a form to apply for a Special Foods Grant as my part of my Disability Allowance. This form caused me quite a significant amount of distress, so much so that I decided I would give up on this part of the application. Today I was told I don’t need that form at all. My Grant was assessed during my appointment. I will be getting some money towards this (probably around $7 a week. Um).
3. When I mentioned to my CM last week that I would be going away, she requested I bring in my travel documents. I did so. I booked this trip before I got sick – I’ve now pushed it out for close to 18 months, hoping to be well enough to go. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that, unless you are going out of the country for something that WINZ deems to be “extraordinary circumstances,” your benefit gets stopped during that period. So, today I found out that I’ll be missing close to two week’s worth of payments. That was… a bit of a blow.
4. By this point I had been sitting there for an hour. My Disability Allowance still was not resolved, and I’d been given the news about the trip. I expressed that I was beginning to feel very tired and distressed, and suggested now would be a good time to speak with the Regional Director.
Key points of my discussion with the Regional Director
1. I want to be fair here, so I’m going to publicly recognise that I received an apology for the delays, frustration, and insensitivities I personally experienced.
2. My response to the apology was thus:
I appreciate the effort, and I acknowledge the apology. But I do not accept it. And if the intention of the apology was to defuse the situation, or to get me to be quiet – I am afraid it will not work. As I have said countless times and will continue saying: This is not about my individual case – though I am certainly grateful that it is finally getting attention. The fact that it took a massive public complaint for this to happen is indicative of how deep this problem is. I am meeting with MPs. I am collecting stories. I will be continuing to talk to the media. I stress that this campaign is of great personal cost to my health, but I am doing it anyway. The enormous difference between the way I was treated last week – as a faceless nobody with no right to respect – and today, as the woman I am with loud voice and the power of the public word behind me – that difference is why I’m doing this. Because what about all the other people that aren’t getting heard? What about their stories? Are they getting apologies? Are they getting two hour appointments, where their rights are carefully explained to them? Not yet. But they might. They just might.
So – was all this good, or bad? Maybe it’s both. As I said: the message is spreading. The story is being heard. For me, personally, the appointment wasn’t great. I still don’t know the outcome of my Disability Allowance assessment – though I know that, out of the c$40 reduction, I’ll be getting less than $10 back as a result of this fight. And I got told I’ll miss out on being paid for the first part of April, as a result of a trip I booked before I went on a benefit.
Plus, I’m not going to lie – I was scared the whole time. I was scared, speaking with my case manager. I was scared speaking with the fricken Regional Director. I was scared that I’d have my benefit revoked. That they’d ask me what the hell I thought I was doing – who the hell I think I am. And after all that confrontation, I am totally, completely exhausted.
But there’s fight left yet.
Please, please tell me your story and be part of this.