The one beneficiary who is different? No.

I’ve been reading about neural pathways. My understanding of neuroscience is pretty limited, but from what I can gather, our brains like to take the easiest route.

If it’s a thought we’ve thought a thousand times before, we’ll think it again. The road is already there. It happens before we even know we’re doing it.

Today I woke up with pain in every part of my body. Blazing away under my ribs like a lovely little hearthfire, screaming in my knee and hip joints and lower back, pulling my shoulders so tight I could barely roll over. Luckily, I stayed still for a while and it became bearable enough to get up.

I remember a few months back, when I was still stubbornly living by myself. I was standing by – no, leaning against – the kitchen sink. I couldn’t stand up by myself. I was looking out at the washing line. I’d managed, that morning, to hang a few things out. I realised as I stood there that I would not be able to get that washing in.

I did not have the energy left to pick up the hamper, walk around the house to the back yard, reach above my head to take the clothes down, and carry them back in.

I had two options. Call someone and ask them to do it for me. Or just leave it out over night.

I abhorred both these options. I did not want to ask for help for something so fucking menial I should be able to do it myself. And I didn’t want to leave it out, because it was winter and my clothes would get dew on them and freeze.

I’ve always been extremely fastidious about tidiness. Even when I was at my sickest, I refused to stop doing ironing. I would do one piece, and then sit down for 20 minutes, and then get up and do another. I’ll wash clothes three times over. I can’t stand leaving dishes undone. I’m obsessive.

So having to admit that I couldn’t do my own chores, that I couldn’t run a house by myself – was a kick in the guts. (A guts that really couldn’t take any more kicking).

Let’s go back to the neuroscience. Thinking what we have always thought is easy. So if you have always thought that beneficiaries are lazy bludgers who want to live off the government – then changing that thought is going to be pretty bloody difficult – especially because you have to want to change, and so many people don’t.

I know that I can write until my fingers are twisted with the pain and tears are running down my face and my guts is in shreds from my anger and frustration, and I’m still preaching to the converted. If you’re reading this, you probably support me. So sometimes I think, why am I even fucking bothering?

Especially when I wake up to a blog like David Farrar’s, who has appropriated my words for his own political discussion. (Not the first time, several others have done this to me as well). Yes, I’m political, and yes, my fight is political. But that particular column was actually about what had happened to me personally.

David has said he was using me as an example of where the system isn’t working. What it feels like to me is being strung up to make a point. He’s opened me up to his commenters. People who read Kiwiblog are, for the most part, not sympathetic to beneficiaries.

The comments are unsurprising. At least most of them are not attacking me personally (so far) but the problem is – they’re missing the point. They’re saying “Oh, this one’s different. She’s actually sick. Not like all those other ones who are rorting the system.”

They think I represent a minority. They congratulate me on my honesty and my attempts to work. It sickens me to the core. I don’t need them to thank me for telling the truth. For trying to get on with my life and do what little I can to get by and get well.

And the truth is, I’m not a minority. People who are on benefits who shouldn’t be are the minority. The neural pathway to “dole bludger” is burned deep and they just can’t see past it. It doesn’t help that every which way you turn the government are doing their best to reinforce it.

How can I possibly battle against this deepseated belief? Why am I even bothering? What am I going to achieve?

I saw this a couple days ago:


And you know what I thought? I thought actually no, fuck you.

I’m not an ‘investment.’ I don’t actually owe the government for having supported me while I’m unwell. I paid tax before, I pay tax now, and I’ll pay it again in the future. I’ve always worked hard, I’m not going to work any harder because I feel like I should ‘give something back.’ I don’t feel indebted for having called upon the welfare I help contribute to.

What about the people who have never been able to work, the people who never will again? Are we going to say ‘Oh no, sorry, you can’t have welfare, you can’t pay it back?’

That’s not how a welfare system works. We chose to be a country that has a system. Now we belittle and harass and drive away everyone who dares to ask for it.

Welfare doesn’t only make economic sense. It’s about human rights, and compassion. It’s about helping our most vulnerable  when they need it.

I’m not your political scapegoat. I’m not a minority. I’m not some “good beneficiary” who is an exception because I am honestly sick and I am doing my best to get well and go back to work.

I’m just a girl who is lucky enough to have a voice.

7 Replies to “The one beneficiary who is different? No.”

  1. Pingback: A disabling bug | Kiwiblog

  2. runningwhio

    Yesss! That’s what I thought when I saw the Rowland thing too. Good on her, I know she’s supporting the good fight, but nooo – ppl on benefits do not become of value once they get rich & ‘give back’! They are ppl now, valued & valuable.
    Love your work, Sarah. As hard as fighting the good fight is, it’s worth it if the fence sitters hear you. You might not know they’re there – they won’t comment – but they’re listening. Xx

  3. Evie

    There are so many people in a position like yours who don’t know how or can’t speak up, your voice has more volume and resonance than you’ll ever know. For people like me that already read your blog, your words fire me up, they get me thinking and talking and telling people. You are an exception to the rule, not because you’re ill but because you so powerfully share your story, and I really hope that soon, more people sit up and listen.

    You’re a hero (and an excellent writer). x

  4. Anthea Whittle

    Hi Sarah,

    There are a few points your writing often has me considering, around attitudes toward beneficiaries.

    It seems to me that general perception by those with the loudest voices is that being on a benefit is bad, and that if you are on a benefit you’re “bludging”. The term “dole bludger” is probably the most unhelpful.

    For many of us who are privileged not to have had experience with needing the welfare system, it can be a scary “other”.

    Society teaches us that fine upstanding citizens work hard and pay their way – which does, in my opinion, more harm than good when such a person (through whatever means) comes to rely on beneficiary support. They’re left with the stigma and the struggle to prove they’re not the stereotype, or more likely, the emotional and mental damage that comes with self perception of failure. Not to mention the barrier that comes up between them and their community who now see them as the “other”, relying on the benefit.

    How counter productive that those who most need our support, and who get it in a paltry monetary sense through fighting to prove they need it, are treated so poorly by those they need emotional and social support from.

    Personally (and it takes a lot of work), I try to assume the best in people. Assume they want to try, and want to help and improve and grow and learn. I think that’s what’s missing from dealings with beneficiaries either as “public” or as “WINZ” or the other professional services working with beneficiaries.

    Another friend has a story that as an educated single mum, after being on a benefit for a short time and then finding work – her case manager was overwhelmingly excited that she’d found a job.

    Yes, it’s nice that they are supportive that she had found work, but the shock and awe that a single mum had done so is frankly insulting. It comes from assuming the worst, which the public and seemingly WINZ have fallen into doing. Assuming that anyone asking for help, sadly termed “a handout”, is lazy and unmotivated and will never work to move away from a benefit.

    Rather than an assumption of the worst, wouldn’t belief of the best in beneficiaries do better for their wellbeing? Supportive encouragement where it’s needed, even if it’s just encouragement to face another day for some.

    I’m not saying anything new. There are others who feel the same as me I’m sure, what can we do to turn this around and do better?

    Thanks for sharing your story, it is powerful to have as an example in raising awareness and changing minds in conversation on the topic.

    Keep fighting! xx

  5. runningwhio

    Ugh RowLING, sorry! Also I had a look at the comment re: fashionable…he’s a misogynist! Take no notice of him.

  6. Amber Harlow

    As always I’m impressed by your ability to understand the thought process of those less compassionate than you. That is a gift. The comment regarding “fashionable” gut disorders really is unbelievable. It is International IBD Awareness day after all! Not to mention that the incidence of these disorders is on the increase, with young men being affected at a similar rate to young women!

  7. Marcus

    Wow, Sarah, YOU ARE STRONG!

    I am impressed by your resilience, despite of your disabilities, and how well you come across. There are many of us struggling day in and out, and sadly, while there are good staff at WINZ, the government has sent the message through, there are too many “malingerers”.

    I am angry about what they have done. How can they dare question clients’ own professional doctors’ certificates, and other things, that are common now.

    But like a few others I learned, and this is what is behind it all:

    YOU are making waves, and a HUGE DIFFERENCE, Sarah, thank you so much!

    Kia Kaha all!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.