Getting a benefit v studying – this week’s column

This week’s Nelson Mail column was on a topic I already wrote about here – education – but I thought I’d put the whole thing up so I can include the links that aren’t in print.

As much as I hate to say it, the end of another year is looming upon us. Being an obsessively Type A personality, I’m already thinking about new year’s resolutions.

My first thought was one I’ve had for a long time – postgraduate education.

It’s two weeks until Halloween.

Soon we’ll roll into November, everyone will start asking what you’re doing for Christmas, and university enrolments will close.

Summer will arrive before the last of the snow melts, the city will double in size with jaywalking tourists, and we’ll be counting down to 2015 before we know it.

It’s hard for me to accept that, on paper, the year has been a complete write-off.

March marked 12 months since my first trip to hospital. My doctors said then that recovery would probably take at least a year, to which I loudly scoffed.

True to Type A, I planned to go back to work months ago. My arthritic spine had other ideas.

I have a medical certificate that allows me to work 15 hours maximum, and that’s on a good week. The certificate also states that I shouldn’t expect to return to fulltime work within the next two years. I plan to prove that wrong.

After I finished my degree in 2011, I wanted to do postgraduate study.

While I don’t exactly need it to do the job I want, it’s a dream I can’t quite give up.

In order to do it now, I’d have to quit receiving the benefit.

This is because the Sickness Benefit was rolled into the Jobseeker Benefit (previously unemployment) in the latest welfare reforms, and although I have medical exemption from looking for work, I am still supposed to be available to do it.

Not only would study make me unavailable, it is considered equivalent to working, and, according to that certificate, I’m only allowed to do 15 hours.

The postgraduate course I’d like to do requires between 20 and 30 hours of study  a week.

The other option is to apply for a student loan to cover my living costs. This is about $175 per week, which is significantly less than the benefit.

I fail to see any place in New Zealand in which I could live on $175 a week, save moving back in with my parents. I love them, but this is not on my to-do list.

So I’d have to work in the 10 hours I wasn’t studying in order to make up the shortfall.

Which leaves me working 40 hours a week.

That’s a little bit more than the 15 my health allows.

I could study if I were receiving the Supported Living Payment  (formerly the Invalid’s Benefit), but I don’t currently qualify for it because my condition is hoped to improve.

Two years ago I might have been able to apply for the student allowance, which is a little more than $200 a week depending on your circumstances.

Unfortunately, because of government funding cuts, the allowance is no longer available to postgraduate students.

Perhaps I am being irrational, but it seems utterly absurd to put so many barriers on higher education.

We should be making it more accessible, not less.

The economic impact of supporting students would surely be outweighed by the contribution they make, both during study and after.

Last year, a survey of Victoria University studentssuggested that the funding cuts would drastically affect research in New Zealand: “Of the 202 participants in the study, 158 said they would be severely disadvantaged by the changes, and 76 said they would cut short their postgraduate studies as a result.”

Anecdotally, I’ve heard many of my friends say that they wouldn’t hesitate to complete or further their education, if it were financially possible for them to do so.

Even those who are totally physically able are reluctant to add thousands of dollars to their student loans, either by course fees or borrowing to live.

The recent funding changes also raised compulsory loan repayments to 12 per cent.

I was lucky enough to have paid off my loan before I got ill. For many others, 12 cents out of every dollar is a significant deduction each week.

Like I said, I don’t really need more education to do the job I want to do – but it would make me better at it.

In the process, I’d contribute money to education and keep university staff employed.

My research could add to the pool of knowledge we have in New Zealand.

Once I completed it, I’d theoretically be able to work smarter and harder.

These all seem like very positive outcomes for such minimal cost.

Instead, it is more financially viable for me to stay on a benefit and work the tiny amount I am currently able, than it is to educate myself and contribute to the current and future economy.

Again. It just seems absurd.

3 Replies to “Getting a benefit v studying – this week’s column”

  1. Marc

    Sarah, you write the following:

    “I could study if I were receiving the Supported Living Payment (formerly the Invalid’s Benefit), but I don’t currently qualify for it because my condition is hoped to improve.”

    I read your other post, where you stated already, you cannot work more than 15 hours a week (if that) and are not expected to be able to work within 2 years.

    That is as I recall it. You need to have a serious discussion with your GP!!!

    The fact is, your conditions render you vulnerable, in a situation of unpredictable changes, worse or to the better, but no guarantee it will last if it gets better.

    The Supported Living Payment is for people who cannot work more than 15 hours a week, and who are not expected to improve in the coming two years. You may improve after that, but there is NO guarantee. So your GP must accept and realise this, it is his professional responsibility to be reasonable, objective, fair and a professional medical, basing certificates and else on medical science.

    Sadly it seems, he has fallen to the influence of WINZ’s and MSD’s “health advisor” or “disability advisors”, who have all been “trained” or influenced to make exactly the kind of recommendations to keep people off certain benefits, even in contravention of their own assessments. Dr Bratt is behind this (google him), and he is a follower of Mansel Aylward’s “teachings”.

    What is happening is irresponsible, a disgrace and worse. WINZ are breaking the law, natural justice that is.

    As you see, there is only the SLP benefit you can look at to study, but they do all to deny this option to you. They believe it is better to force sick into working into low paid burger bar and cleaning or other jobs, than helping them develop their potential.

    Seek advice from a good advocate please, you are being “short changed”.

    Also read this post:

    Sorry for the length of this!

    1. writehandedgirl Post author


      Thanks very much for putting the time into all this advice. I do in fact have a great advocate, and I have spoken to her, my WINZ canse manager, and my Doctors about the SLP. Yes, I could very well apply for it – no guarantee I would get it.

      However, that would be admitting to myself that I’m not going back to work any time soon. And I am not ready to accept that. I am not entirely sure how much I would be allowed to work on the SLP – in terms of, how many hours I could do before WINZ would consider me fit for fulltime.

      At the moment, I can sometimes work up to the 15 hours – and if I can manage to go over that, I have a plan in place with WINZ so they will support me to transition into work and not just cut me off because I suddenly appear ‘well.’

      Also thanks for TDB link – that was a good article.


      1. Marc

        Sarah –

        You and your advocate, check out section 40 K of the new, amended Social Security Act.

        There is this provision, and it allows up to 6 months to try work, it can under discretion also be extended. Many do not know this, do not know their rights, but it is worth exploring, and the law states, you will not lose your entitlement.

        As I wrote before, I feel it is your personal aspiration, which is admirable, but may hamper your ability to find greater support under the twisted system we have, that is perhaps the “problem”.

        Do talk to your advocate, try to discuss it with your GP and others, and explore what I suggested. There surely must be away to give you the support you need, and all these denials, and dis-enabling short cuts that case managers are told to focus on, they cannot be acceptable.

        Good luck and best wishes,



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