One of the things that has struck me about running this blog is the horror stories I have heard from people having trouble with WINZ. Having trouble is putting it lightly, really. Most of them are already suffering. Trying to get financial assistance has been the edge of the cliff for many.
Since I’m about to shut down the blog for a while, I’ve been thinking about everything that has happened since I started it. My reasons for writing have evolved, but the core desire – to try and address and change the popular perception of beneficiaries – has not.
I started out simply sharing my story. I kind of naiively hoped that would be enough. But we’re climbing a mountain here. In 2013, a Human Rights commission survey showed beneficiaries are the most discriminated against group in the country. I’m going to be blunt. People love to hate us. They don’t understand, and they don’t want to. They are steadfastly sticking to the stereotypes. My voice alone isn’t going to change that.
At least I have been able to make that voice a loud one. And my personal relationship with WINZ has changed as a result of that.
But that leaves thousands of people out in the cold, and I’m painfully aware of it.
Earlier this week I met with Jan Logie, spokesperson for Social Development for the Green Party. We brainstormed ideas for how we could work together to force change. One of the biggest issues with this is that the government keep saying the stories of mistreatment etc are just hearsay. And it’s hard to ask people to put their names and faces to the stories when they feel at risk. I for one know exactly what it feels like to be that face. It’s not a happy place.
So what needs to happen?
- Identifying the issues and exactly which legislation needs to change to address them
- Gathering statistical data to prove how widespread the issues are
- A serious discussion with the Human Rights Commission about what role they should be playing here
- Encouragement of academic studies into this area to help back qualitative data
Here’s some of the specific issues we know are prevalent (many of these were identified in the Canterbury Community Law Report).
– The power balance between clients and Work and Income
– Case managers not informing clients of all their entitlements
– Declined applications with no real explanation
– Beneficiaries sent to work seminars or budget advisors when there is no work and no budget to work with
– Clients receiving conflicting information from different WINZ employees
I hear many horror stories. I know one man who is terminally ill and still battling WINZ for support.
I know people who have turned to sex work rather than deal with Work and Income any longer.
I hear stories regarding people whose own doctors assess them as too sick for work – but the WINZ employed doctors insist otherwise. (One woman was asked by a WINZ doctor to sign a piece of paper releasing her medical records to him. She wasn’t told it is her right not to do so).
All of this remains deeply concerning to me. I intend to work with the Greens as and where possible.
As I have mentioned, I’m not going to be on the blog much in the coming weeks. But if there is anything important to share or discuss, I will certainly do so.
We all know things need to change. It’s just a question of how.