Culture of victimisation just not good enough

I know I said I wasn’t going to write for a bit, but there’s been a couple more news stories about me, and I wanted to share a few thoughts.


Here’s yesterday’s response to my story. (Nelson Mail 25 March)

Here’s today’s, in which Paula Bennett says the usual stuff, and I respond. (Nelson Mail 26 March)

Here also is today’s editorial in the Nelson Mail, which is about me. (I will reproduce it in full in a separate post.)

As I said, I have been struggling not to read the comments on these articles, and when I have given into the masochistic urge to do so, I’ve felt sad and angry about the level of ignorance and lack of compassion on display.

This is not just a story about policy or law or government or tax dollars. This is a story about real people, and what they are really experiencing. It’s a story about fighting a culture of victimising our most vulnerable.

New Zealand’s culture of attacking and undermining those who need welfare support is so deep socialised that the term ‘bene-basher’ just trips off the tongue. People like Paula Bennett perpetuate this rhetoric when they continually roll out lines about how much welfare “costs our country.” It’s control-by-fear leadership. It’s trying to scare all those taxpayers into imagining scourges of beneficiaries, staggering towards them and clawing with zombie-hands at their wallets.

This is not the reality.

The reality is – even if this vital service (because no, we’re not a third world country that forces people to work even when they are crippled or fatally ill or mentally unwell) costs us – so what? Why are people so miserly and miserable that they would fight about the difference between the deserving and undeserving poor?

The stories I am receiving about WINZ mistreatment are not just petty complaints. They are serious allegations of misconduct. Beyond this, a theme that runs through them all is how utterly degrading and harrowing it is go to into a WINZ office.

People who complain about beneficiaries are the crux of the feeling of worthlessness that rolls over you when you walk in there. The feeling that you don’t deserve the support you are actually entitled to, and the terror that they’ll find some way of not giving it to you. This is not a personal belief. This is a belief that is created by our culture.

The feeling is one of deep intimidation and isolation.

It feels like this because it is a destructive power model. Because of repeated and systemic mistreatment. Because of blatant disrespect. You know that you’re about to have to fight, not just for your rights, but to be treated with dignity. That’s difficult enough when you’re well. When you’re not…

It’s hard to maintain self-worth under these sorts of circumstances. And self-worth is kind of necessary to get a job.

It’s hard to maintain self-worth when the cultural belief beaten into you is that you’re at best lazy – and at worst a criminal.

WINZ is anĀ administrative body. They are there to administer the support the law says I am entitled to. So why do I feel like I am walking in there like a beggar on my knees?

Because of the cultural belief. Because of all the misconceptions about beneficiaries, and life on a benefit, that I have been fighting since the moment I started writing about all of this. That was always the point of my fight. (See pretty much all my posts since last July, especially this one: A beggar and a criminal.)

Now, I have to go rest again. I don’t really want to admit how tired and sick and vulnerable all of this is making me, because being the face of something means being a target, which is incredibly difficult, and if I don’t look brave it’ll only get worse.

I can take some sort of terrible comfort in the fact I’m not alone. Please send me your story. None of us are alone.