I’ve had a few run-ins with WINZ, but none so terrible as when they decided to combine the Sickness Benefit and Unemployment Benefit into the one-size-fits-nobody “Jobseeker Support.”
In late 2012, I became extremely ill. I had to stop working full time; by March 2013 I was in hospital with a condition that almost killed me. In August that year I was in Intensive Care in Wellington Hospital with liver failure, a kidney infection, and sepsis. Both of the times I was in hospital, WINZ cut my benefit off as I wasn’t “actively seeking work”, despite the medical certificates I had given in person only weeks before that had been accepted, and their letters that had advised I was not required to look for work for 13 weeks from the date of the certificate. Because of the lack of income, rent went unpaid, and my bank account went overdrawn.
In September 2013 I had to move back up to Auckland to live with my parents.
In October 2013 my doctor declared me unfit to work for more than two years due to my mental and physical health situations. WINZ decided otherwise. They decided I actually *was* working – for the workplace I had worked for in 2007. They cut my benefit off again, and it was only when I went in to their offices and had a complete breakdown as I couldn’t afford my medication or doctor’s visits that they told me they thought I was working. They hadn’t sent me a letter at all. At no time when they cut off my benefit had they thought to contact me.
Between October 2013 and February 2014 I kept battling with WINZ to be put on the Supported Living Payment. My doctor tried her best to assist with this as well, but it is the WINZ doctors who decide whether or not one qualifies as “disabled”, without actually assessing one in person. It is done entirely on one’s medical certificate, which are not comprehensive at all. Whenever my medical certificate was to do with a mental health condition, they did not believe it meant I was unfit for work, despite the fact the bipolar has been more crippling than the physical conditions. Dealing with WINZ was destroying me. So I did the only thing I could think would make my life better: took out a massive student loan, took a drop in income, went onto the Student Allowance, and became a student. Nevermind the fact I am disabled. Nevermind the fact I am chronically ill. I no longer have the stress of having to deal with WINZ. Studylink doesn’t cut payments off, as they’re set for a certain study period. I am upskilling in order to have a job that accommodates my disability (software development).
But I shouldn’t have to have been pushed to this point. I was already upskilling myself when I was on the benefit. I simply wasn’t $15k in debt, and I was getting $150 a week more. I was still able to get all but one of the same certifications I’m going to be getting at the end of this course. The strain of having to deal with a purposefully obtuse government department that seems to want to get people off the benefit in the most obscene ways – by just cutting off their payments willy-nilly and forcing them to breaking point where they will either work before they are able or study – is more than a lot can bear.
I’m fairly certain putting people through stress and making them more ill isn’t the best way to get them off sickness benefits and help them into work. I’m also fairly certain there are many more like me who have jumped from the WINZ flame into the Studylink fire.
*Name changed, for obvious reasons.