As the National Party implodes and MPs are dropping like flies, I’m celebrating one retirement in particular. Paula Bennett. Her announcement fell at the same time the Greens releasing their Poverty Action Plan. The stark contrast in policy was a prompt that my life could have been very different…
Whatever it is, something is going on inside the National Party. And with JuCo at the helm, I can really only see things getting worse. But for a second, I’m going to step back in time and into the ‘World of What If.’
I don’t like to live in that world. It’s not exactly fun or healthy. But the stark juxtaposition between Bennett’s smug satisfaction in her 2013 welfare reforms, and proposed new Green approach Election 2020, forced me to consider how different my life would be.
For context, here’s a potted history of the last seven or so years. I’ll be as brief as possible, but if you already know the story, feel free to skip ahead.
- I got sick in 2012. The sickness went undiagnosed, and I was hospitalised in March 2013. I had a rare and sometimes fatal infection. My entire body was fighting inflammation.
- I was treated and released, with assurances my recovery should be swift. Spoilers: it was not.
- I went through the grief process of stopping work and applying for the benefit. It was an arduous and almost entirely inaccessible process when I was so ill..
- KEY DATE: Bennett’s welfare reforms kicked in on 15 July 2013. See main changes here.
- The unemployment benefit and the sickness benefit were abolished. I was moved onto the new ‘Jobseeker’ Benefit.
- It was barely enough to live on. No one seemed interested in the fact I still actually had a job, I was just too ill to do it. I was required to provide a med cert every 3 months.
- KEY DATE: March 2014. I wrote a blog about yet another humiliating experience in the WINZ office. Something about it touched the public nerve.
- I got interviewed. So did Bennett. Jokes aside, I was terrified. I was a weeny sick girl from Nelson (the picture Stuff used was a year old. I was too vain to provide one that showed my current state. I remember vividly one commenter saying that I couldn’t be struggling as much as I claimed because my hair looked very expensive). Bennett, who’d recently leaked private information about beneficiaries who publicly opposed her, implied I was too ill to be credible.
- Many people disagreed. Writehanded.org became a bigger thing than I’d ever imagined. I couldn’t keep up with the emails from people sharing their own horror stories. I gave as much energy as I could. I kept writing and doing interviews. I got my own column.
- KEY DATE: Late 2014, the doctors finally figured out why I was not recovering as promised. I had a rare form of genetic autoimmune arthritis – Ankylosing Spondylitis – which had been triggered by the “inflammatory event” in 2013.
- Over the next three years, I lived in survival mode. I had barely the money for medication. The community that had grown around me funded the MRI I required to access treatment. I was the recipient of more kindness than I’ve ever known – except from WINZ.
- Bennett’s agenda was to get as many people off the benefit as possible. It was framed as supporting people into ‘independent lives.’ In fact, it lead to the kind of cruelty where beneficiaries become completely dehumanised. National and Bennett were more than happy to incite public opinion against this ‘drain on taxpayers’ hard-earned money.’
- I was required to prove every three months that my incurable illness had not in fact been cured.
- After several years of living like this, I won the fight to be moved from the Jobseeker Benefit to the Supported Living Payment.
- … Which I then lost when I moved in with my now fiance, forcing me into work that often has a detrimental impact on my health.
And that brings me to my last couple of posts, Head Injury Part I and 11. Despite my jokes in those posts, head injuries and concussion are obviously very difficult, and at first I was surprised how supportive ACC was.
In comparison to WINZ, ACC was (initially) in no hurry to get me back to work. They contracted my rehab, and paid me while I couldn’t work. They said repeatedly that head injuries cannot be rushed. That message changed when I didn’t recover at the rate they required.
Maybe it’s extrapolating, but I believe if I hadn’t been so stressed, fatigued, and in pain from working too much, I would never have hit my head in the first place. No, I’m not blaming WINZ or Paula Bennett for the fact I smacked myself in the face, but I have to wonder how much less stressful going back to work, moving in with someone, and then trying to recover from injuries would have been under the Green Party’s proposed plan. For one thing, I wouldn’t have had to manage returning to employment as well as my long-distance-turned-live-in relationship at the same time. So let’s do it: comparison time.
Here’s the headlines
- A Guaranteed Minimum Income of $325 per week for students and people out of work, no matter what.
- A Universal Child Benefit for each child under three of $100 per week.
- A simplified Family Support Credit of $190 per week for the first child and $120 per week for subsequent children to replace the Working for Families tax credits with a higher abatement threshold and lower abatement rate.
- Additional support for single parents through a $110 /week top-up.
- Reforming ACC to become the Agency for Comprehensive Care, creating equitable social support for everyone with a work-impairing health condition or disability, with a minimum payment of 80% of the full-time minimum wage.
- Changes to abatement and relationship rules so people can earn more from paid work before their income support entitlements are reduced.
- A 1% wealth tax for those with a net-worth over $1 million.
- And two new top income tax brackets for a more progressive tax system that redistributes wealth.
So. In the World of What If…
|Being a beneficiary (or on acc) under Bennett||How it could have been – how it could be now|
|Accessing the benefit – arduous, mountains of paperwork, in-person appointments required, incredibly difficult for any ill person.||Guaranteed minimum income of $325/ week, no matter what evidence you amass.|
|July 2013 Welfare Reform – Abolished the sickness and unemployment benefits, moving me automatically to the new ‘Jobseeker Benefit.’ This focused on getting me to work, not getting me well.||My case would have been managed by the Greens’ Agency for Comprehensive Care, with equitable social support and a minimum payment of 80% of previous wage or full time minimum wage.|
|July 2013 – March 2018: Survival on anxiety-inducing non-guaranteed government support + whatever freelance work I could manage + the kindness of others. Constant burden of proof. Mental health collapse due to pressure to work and fighting publicly for beneficiary rights.||This is hard to imagine but: Enough money to support my health. Significantly reduced uncertainty and anxiety. Support for my wellbeing and what I needed for current and future health.|
|March 2018: I finally receive the Supported Living Payment, which gives me a few more dollars a week and a little less anxiety.||I would have already had adequate income and never had to fight so hard to prove I needed it. Better physical and mental health overall.|
|July 2019: I am forced to stop my benefit because my long-distance relationship has become a live-in one. The happiness of this situation is marred by my concerns about lost income and my ability to work. I become employed and work far more than is healthy or sustainable for me.||Green Policy states they would “fully individualise entitlements so people with work-impairing health conditions and disabilities retain their financial independence regardless of relationship status.” (p16)|
|November 2019: I hit my head. I stop work. I am given compensation and support by ACC.||Maybe this would never have happened. But if it did, it would presumably not affect compensation already received by ACC (Agency for Comprehensive Care), but would increase the rehabilitative and health support.|
|March 2020: COVID begins. I’ve been at home for four months and just returned to a few hours of work before lockdown.||This would be the same presumably, unless I’d never hit my head.|
|April 2020: I’m the dumbass who hits her head again.||Again, may never have happened, but I would have already been under the Green version of ACC.|
|May – July 2020: Lapsing support and increased pressure from ACC, who question how much of my difficulty in returning to work is actually from a head injury at all.||Again, I can only presume that under a department called the Agency for Comprehensive Care, I would not end up fighting to be believed.|
|Now: The choice between pushing myself as hard as I was to work – or significantly reducing our household income.||Again… my illness would be covered regardless of my relationship. I’d still have an income, without the stress on my health.|
To me, the Green Party seems the only party who truly care for the most vulnerable members of our communities, who are not obsessed as both the current coalition and opposition are with jobs jobs jobs, economy economy economy.
People are more than capitalist machines. We deserve to live in a society where health is a priority, and people are not forced into situations that endanger them and their families just to make ends meet.
Also, y’know what healthy people can do? Or people with adequate income support? Bolster the fucking economy. If that’s what you care about, you should care about this.