“Love has consequences” – why I’ve lost my benefit

As of this week, I don’t qualify for a benefit. Why? Did I suddenly get healthy enough to work fulltime? Did a distant cousin leave me their millions in Apple stock? No. I just made the mistake of falling in love. 

It’s not a marriage in any law’s eyes- except MSD’s.

Two years ago, MP Alastair Scott was asked about disabled people losing their financial support after moving in with a partner, and whether his government would change welfare policy to recognise how dangerous this legislation is. His reply?

“Well, love has consequences…”

I am literally just like a huge question mark emoji. What consequences? For healthy, working people: none, as long as the relationship is a happy and safe one.

For people on a benefit, especially those with disabilities or chronic illness?

Catastrophic.

This is not news to me. I’ve known ever since I got sick and became unable to work that meeting someone would have the chance to jeopardize my only means of independence.

For a sick woman on a benefit, the risks around this are far greater than many other demographics. Disabilities and illness are expensive. People with these considerations have medical bills, more complex and costly accommodation needs, transport support, expensive dietary requirements. We are receiving a benefit, an accommodation allowance, and a disability allowance to reflect those costs – though of course we all know welfare barely covers basic needs.

We are more vulnerable because of the higher costs, because of reduced capabilities, because we’re not working, or not working fulltime, or may never be able to work.

The legislation recognises none of this.

The legislation says that if you move in with a partner who earns over a very modest threshold, they are now fully financially responsible for you.

If you’re an able person, imagine yourself in this scenario. Imagine you met someone, and all of a sudden, your independent income was slashed. Imagine weighing up your desire to progress your relationship, with your need to survive. Imagine the pressure it would put on a new relationship, for one person to become entirely dependent on the other, from the moment you move in together. Imagine having to ask your partner for money for rent, food, the essentials you need to be comfortable. Imagine how both parties might feel about all this.

Imagining it? Good. Unhappy about it? Also good. Because this is discrimination – it’s a law that negatively impacts disabled and ill beneficiaries in a way this situation would impact no one else.

Because I fell in love, I am no longer eligible for any sort of financial support.

Supported Living Payment? Gone.

Accommodation supplement? Gone.

Disability Allowance? Gone.

This isn’t a surprise. It’s something I’ve been physically, mentally and emotionally preparing for since I met my partner.

I researched MSD’s rules around relationships extensively. I read all the policies and queried people. The answers were the same: because my partner earns x amount per year, I qualify for nothing.

At first I naiively hoped that maybe the rules under SLP might be slightly different. Surely I could still get help for all the expenses involved with being sick? Surely I wouldn’t have to rely on my partner for the thing that is most vital – my health?

But no. My circumstances don’t change the outcome. Being a sick woman doesn’t change the outcome – even though that exact context makes this policy even more dangerous. This is how the law works, regardless of whether that’s reasonable, healthy, or safe. For me, I know it is. I trust my partner unequivocally. Other women may not be so lucky.

It’s the most vulnerable position imaginable, and one that is rife for unhappiness, broken homes, child poverty, and domestic abuse.

When we started talking about taking the next steps that would make our relationship “official” in MSD’s eyes, I felt furious and afraid. I knew that I would be losing my independence, something that is absolutely vital to me.

People with disabilities and chronic illness deserve agency and autonomy. Forcing them into a situation where their partner is basically their carer, and the gatekeeper of access to their health needs, is dangerous, flawed and fundamentally wrong. 

It took a lot for me to work through the implications and assess whether I could lose my income support in order to progress my personal life. Obviously, the answer was and is yes. I love my partner. We want to spend our lives together. He has always said he understood everything our getting together would mean, and it changed nothing for him. He is willing to support me in any way I need.

But I’m a feminist. Everything inside me balked at the idea that I would have to rely on someone else – particularly a man – for food and bills and a roof over my head. I am committed to equality, which is difficult to achieve when one of you has a minuscule income and higher needs. I wondered how on earth I was going to navigate all of this while also dealing with the “normal” challenges associated with moving in with someone for the first time. I found it hard to even consider my reduced independence, to feel OK about having physical, emotional and financial support. I have major trust issues, which could be considered a separate issue, but obviously factored here. At some point, I had to make a leap of faith far greater than the one made by two healthy working people shacking up. I would have to cut the ties to the ropes that, while strangling me for most of the past six years, have also been my lifeline. Am I exuberant about not having to deal with WINZ anymore? Of course. Am I also terrified? For sure.

Yesterday, a report into how the weflare system defines relationship was released by the University of Auckland Public Policy Institute and the Child Poverty Action Group. RNZ reports:

The current rules reflected traditional thinking about dependence on a partner in a relationship and could be a barrier for those on benefits to partner or re-partner.

“The welfare system, intentionally or otherwise, has embedded a set of disincentives for family relationship building, which may run counter to the current government’s policy objectives to reduce child poverty and improve child wellbeing,” the report said.

Ricardo Menendez-March from Auckland Action Against Poverty agreed the rules were unfair.

“It really calls for an immediate reform around this legislation. At the end of the day, benefit levels should be individualised, people shouldn’t be penalised for being in a relationship,” he said.

The Welfare Expert Advisory Group also recommended changes to the relationship rules.

It said new or formative relationships should be allowed a development period of six months from initial moving in together, rather than the current six-week guideline.

That development period would remove some of the stress of having to commit to a live-in relationship, and subsequent reduction of family income, until the parties involved decided this was in their best interests.

It’s important to note that the “six-week guideline” as printed in the WEAG Report is incorrect. Current policy does not allow for any development period after moving in together. What exists is allowance for a six-week “facilitation” with WINZ,

This is from their internal guide:

The facilitation process helps clients to determine what effect their de facto relationship will have on their benefit. A loss of benefit is not easy and commitment to a long-standing relationship does not happen overnight.

You should give the client as much information as possible about their benefit entitlement and how moving into a de facto relationship would affect their benefit. This allows the client to make an informed decision.

A time frame can be negotiated with the client to allow them to decide whether they will enter into a de facto relationship and therefore surrender entitlement to a single or sole parent rate of benefit. This can be a period of up to 6 weeks. This period will give them time to consider the consequences for them and to discuss the matter with their partner.

They should be advised that if they enter into a de facto relationship before that time, they should cancel their benefit.

If you are unable to make a decision regarding the client’s relationship you can discuss the case with your Regional Solicitor or local National Fraud Investigation Unit Investigator.

When I asked for the wording of the six-week guideline to be changed in the WEAG Report and Recommendations because it is misleading and could cause people to take risks by assuming they could move in and be “safe” for a further six weeks, I was told the Report is staying as-is.

So basically, you’re expected to go to WINZ on a good-faith basis, discuss with them whether it’s financially beneficial to enter into a relationship and examine deeply personal details with an organisation that’s done nothing to earn your trust, and risk being sent to the Fraud Investigation Unit if you fuck it up in any way.

Yeah, seems good.

I decided not to do that, because of all the above, and because I knew the outcome would be the same. I don’t qualify; I lose my benefit. But I’m gaining a partner who, somehow, amazingly, wants to support me. I don’t want to go on about that too much because hey, I’ve been blogging about my personal life for a long time, and now it’s his life too, and we’re actually incredibly fortunate and privileged, in comparison.

Having said that, “Love has consequences” has to be up there with the top Worst Responses Ever to this problem. The only “consequence” love should have is a better life for everyone involved. I don’t intend to stop caring about welfare issues just because I’m no longer in the system. I’m in a relationship, but there’s always a risk that could end, for whatever reason, whereas my genetic illness won’t. And besides that, my writing about this for the past seven years has never just been about me. In fact, my new position gives me privilege that those still on welfare don’t have, because MSD cannot hurt me in the same way.

So, I guess, this is my update. My life has radically changed for the better. I think everyone deserves that, regardless of their income status.

It’s time the government actually moved on the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s recommendations. After all, why employ a 12-person panel of experts to consult 30,000 people over six months, if you’re not going to listen to the outcome?

No one should have to weigh up whether they have a relationship or whether they have independent income. It’s a logical fallacy and it’s a policy affecting our most vulnerable – women, women with medical needs, and women with children.

Come on.

Do better.

 

18 Replies to ““Love has consequences” – why I’ve lost my benefit”

  1. Susan St John

    What a brave and insightful post, thankyou. CPAG has fought for years to get this changed. Thanks for clarifying the 6 weeks reference in the WEAG report. It is an absurdly short time- but if you just flat with that person you are not penalised. It is beyond belief that we are still putting up with these archaic policies in the 21st century and that the progressive new government has shied away from it so far

    Reply
  2. Kylee

    I cant get any help at all to be financially independent either as we are above the threshhold which we still are eligible for accommodation supplement so thats how low our income is so i can not help myself to get help for my own work limiting conditions and i am also forced to be a carer to my medically complex daughter as we cant afford the care for her either so i cant help me at all to be better and live a normalish life .
    To me supported living payments should be like job seekers individual and not income based at all .
    We should be entitled to 2 as i cant work with my conditions and i am supporting a family member (my daughter ) who would otherwise need to be in hospital care . Things really do need to change even if it was reduced better then nothing .

    Reply
  3. vicky

    An absolutely resounding success – this blog. Thank you. Your intellect and rational analysis of the situation is phenomenal.

    Reply
  4. Steve

    This is a very good insight into this issue. This government has taken some steps in moving in the direction of assessing people’s entitlement individually. For example, overseas pensions are to be treated as individual entitlements and will not affect the partner’s benefit any more. (I think Susan St John has commented on this.)

    I think you’ve misunderstood the six-week reference. The WINZ guide does not say that moving in with someone is determinative of being in a relationship “in the nature of marriage”. The WEAG report is not misleading. The guideline is saying if you move in with someone and there’s a question as to whether you’re really in a relationship *in the nature of marriage*, you can take up to six weeks to consider that. But if you decide to tell WINZ that you are in a relationship after three weeks, then that’s when your individual benefit entitlement ends.

    Reply
    1. writehanded Post author

      I dunno mate, a member of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group told me that the way the 6 weeks is worded in the WEAG report is wrong and misleading and they tried to get it changed but MSD refused. So they’re still fighting it. I don’t think beneficiaries should trust that as a guide because they could still end up getting in trouble.

      Reply
    2. Kia

      In my experience it counts if your in ANY relationship! My partner was in Canada and it still counted! He was still expected to support me even though he was barely getting by himself!!!!!!

      Reply
  5. Anna

    ACC under National in 2000 didn’t cover a parent home feeding the baby & not yet back at work becoming permanently disabled. That’s meant 20years of me living entirely off my partner, as you so eloquently describe. It’s meant impacts on everyone, the children & him. It’s meant i’m defined by my being a burden. If i’s in paid work at the time, how different life would have been.

    Reply
  6. Tracey Morgan

    Such and important post. I just hope we can put enough pressure on government to do better. This policy is so harmful it should be illegal.

    Reply
  7. Don McMillan

    It’s all part of the elites’ methodology of keeping poor people poor, or making poor people poorer. What an outlook on life! Paula Bennett is a prime example of this, by using the nation’s benevolence to get on very well in life then deliberately stopping others from doing the same when she became an elite.

    Reply
  8. Simon Morahan

    Collecting regular payments off the long suffering taxpayers is not financial independence. it is charity to help people unable to help themselves. My mother relied on my father’s wages for her support from 1947 until 1980. They were financially poor, but careful, and lived a happy loving marriage. It did not occur to either of them to blame others for their financial situation because they decided to live together. One does not lose one’s benefit because of falling in love. One loses one’s benefit for moving in together.

    Reply
    1. writehanded Post author

      Simon, taxpayers are not “long-suffering.” We live in a democracy, we pay tax for the services and infrastructure in that democracy – one of those services is welfare. I say “we” because guess what – the benefit is taxed too. Beneficiaries are *still taxpayers*. The welfare system isn’t “charity,” it’s a right we all have. Anyone could need it at any time – I certainly never expected to end up needing it, but circumstances change. Those taxpayers who now consider themselves “long-suffering” would change their tune if they found themselves in the WINZ line. Poverty is suffering, not paying tax.

      For me, it took a lot to get my head around, because it did not feel like financial independence in the beginning. It is reliance on a very broken system. But in contrast to relying on the income of a romantic partner, it *is* a kind of independence.

      I did lose that independence by falling in love. Because the natural progression of a healthy relationship is one where eventually, you spend more time staying over, if one of you is on a benefit, the other will probably start paying for things – and WINZ can consider that “in the nature of marriage,” regardless of whether you’re living together or not. What would you have me do? Remain in separate housing, with two sets of expensive bills etc, in perpetuity? Am I never allowed to take the next step?

      I don’t blame my partner for my financial situation, I don’t know where on earth you get that front. I blame my health, foremost, which is largely out of my control, and secondly: I blame WINZ. They created this black and white situation that puts huge pressure on so many people.

      I understand why some people are telling me to quit moaning and just be happy for my partner to support me. That’s not healthy. I should be able to have autonomy.

      Regardless of how much we love each other, I don’t have that.

      And that is where the pain is coming from.

      Reply
      1. Anne

        I whole heartedly agree regarding the loss of an independence that I had lived by my whole life. I had always supported myself independently. Then i became ill and ended up on a disability allowance. After 15 years alone i met someone wonderful. At 50 I was not going to become reliant on someone else. I had high medical costs along with an income that was barely enough for even the most basic needs. As long as items such as car insurance were not deemed important. Anyway…MSD deemed we were in a relationship akin to a marriage. They took me to court. I used to have my own home. It cost me everything I had to get out from under their charges. It cost me several years of my life fighting. I lived through a house raid and years of court battles. And i ended up severely depressed. Was i grateful that i lived in a country that acknowledged people sometimes need financial aid to get by. Absolutely. Will i ever return to live in NZ. Never. I used to be proud of NZ… first country to give women the vote! The way NZ treats women who are alone, living on a benefit, wanting to find love and relationship, is wrong. Choosing to be in a relationship should not mean becoming dependent on the other person. It should be a time of becoming partners with both retaining their dignity and independence. Being too unwell to work should not make one a second class citizen.

        Reply
    2. Kia

      Simon, I became fully disabled from a stroke at 15.. I know what fun right! I had to quit school.. I even still sometimes feel very low self worth taking the benefit because of this shame that is on it but I’d absolutely love the opportunity to work.. a privilege!! I never really even got the chance bar odd jobs here and there before my stroke.. I met my ex and went through this.. he didn’t earn enough to support himself + his drinking habit and hire purchase habit!! But he was always at my house and I ended up driving him to his 3am night shifts (lack of money, lack of car!! ) I was so fortunate to have my parents bought me a car to get around! This was ages ago but I reported it even though I could lie.. I’m now with a beautiful man who had to support me as a 22yo from 3months into our relationship 😐 we’ve been together awhile now but wtf do I bring to the relationship when unlike your mum im unable to “keep the home” bare children and all of that! I’ve also met many mighty men who’ve fallen to strokes and feel they’ve lost their manliness now they can’t look after their family at all.. what I’m getting at is you don’t know everyone’s story and you have the utter privilege to be a working tax payer that I assume can afford to support someone, but you don’t own that privilege and could one day also need this support (you may loose your current partner even!! But this shame on the benefit is really toxic

      Reply
  9. Claire

    It is certainly an issue worth discussing – especially the concern of putting any person that is more vulnerable into a situation of lost power (any relationship where there is one ‘breadwinner’ and the other person relies solely on them for survival).

    But what would your solution be? To have the benefit follow the individual and your the partner’s income have no relevance? Because to lose your Supported Living completely, I assume your partner’s income would be high (cut-out point being $850.00 per week – https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/map/deskfile/main-benefits-cut-out-points/supported-living-payment-cut-out-points-current.html) and the Disability Allowance being $100 higher (https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/map/deskfile/extra-help-information/disability-allowance-tables/disability-allowance-rates-19/disability-allowance-income-limits-current.html).

    I am not saying I don’t see the need for support being wrapped around people with high health needs. Just questioning if a partner’s income should never hold sway on what assistance is provided. I would consider the discussion about any negotiation of cut-off of a benefit being more important. Especially if this is about supporting independence and financial security.

    Reply
    1. writehanded Post author

      I understand what you’re saying, and how people might think – well, if your partner is making enough to support you both easily, why should the state help?

      I’m not sure what a reasonable “cut off” would be, but I think the existing one is far too low.

      Beyond that, even if my partner were very well-off, I still think that people who struggle to make an income for themselves because of health and disability should receive financial assistance. Our needs are different and higher, creating a significant burden on our partners to centre our wellbeing – and what if they don’t, or can’t? What if they don’t see the worth in say, eating healthier food over cheaper food, or seeing a specialist over a GP, or paying for a medication that’s unsubsidised? Should we, as disabled people, be forced to plead our case and go with hand out to our partners for every need, big and small?

      It creates an untenable power imbalance where the health of people like me is in danger.

      It also puts huge stress on a relationship when it’s really only just beginning. You decide to move in with someone, and you’ve suddenly got to navigate really tough financial discussions, which I would argue are more difficult than the budgeting discussions between two healthy people who are both on a stable income. It’s already a challenging time, without one person having to give up their financial independence immediately, and the other becoming responsible. Both people in that situation have huge emotional challenges to face.

      Regardless of arguing dollar amounts, I support an ideology of autonomy. Disabled people deserve it – and I know some people don’t see receiving a benefit as being autonomous, because you are reliant on that support, but it’s a hell of a lot more autonomous than relying on a romantic partner, because that could go wrong in a billion ways.

      Thank you for at least being reasoned in your engagement with the issue and using facts rather than attacks. I’m (when I’m not exhausted) interested in the conversation. I’m not interested in being shut down with anti-beneficiary rhetoric.

      Reply
  10. Christina Reymer

    A proposal -if MSD wants to persist with a presumption of financial sharing between partners, why shouldn’t that couple also be able to register this partnership with IRD, as would any “business partnership” and effectively split their income, each paying tax only on their own half share of partnership income. That way the “support” offered by the higher earner is compensated with an overall reduced tax liability.
    In fact why shouldn’t this apply for all couples sharing an income for an ulterior motive eg care of children, elderly or disabled family members etc.

    Reply
  11. Kia

    Hey I’m in similar position except my partner has chosen to volunteer and grow his potential for the job he wants ( putting him under the income level which is incredibly low) so that leaves me with the bene to support him so basically same situation anyway😒 I have the same issues with the system! So like I’m already ‘not as good’ as a ‘no Chick’ but also if you date me you’re financially responsible for me!?!?!?!? Like even just enough to contribute a little to the relationship would be an advantage!! And like I don’t really contribute equally to house chores either because of my disability!! Leaves me with real issues of self worth! And if I just didn’t get into a relationship it’d be all the same to them.. faaarrrrrrrrr********* glad your speaking out!!

    Reply
  12. Aotearoan

    Great insightful post. I’m happy that you have found a loving relationship.
    I’m also mindful of the fact that domestic violence is often a factor for disabled women in relationships and the MSD’s attitudes to “de facto or marriage type relationships” have a really bad track record when vulnerable women are coerced. Anyone with a grudge can make a complaint to MSD when you aren’t in a relationship, triggering an investigation. Relationships are often hard to leave because of the extra dependency aspect and power imbalance.
    It seems some of this could be avoided by not having financial interdependence and continuing to receive a supported living allowance to acknowledge the realities, costs and stresses of living with illness.

    Having to depend on a partner for support seems oddly like pseudo prostitution in this era, an outdated notion, pre- feminism and women participating gladly in the paid workforce.
    It is different for women -people- with disabilities. You can’t work, you need financial help despite your pride. You miss the satisfaction and self worth involved in participating in the workforce.
    I’m glad to be living in a country that realises people will always need help, from time to time or for their lifespans. I pay tax and live on $14,000 per year. There are many adults living in poverty as well as children.

    Reply

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