Today I asked Paula Bennet what she will do to ensure beneficiaries are able to get their legal entitlements.
I mentioned just three examples that are symbolic of what community advocates have told us is symptomatic of a culture of blame and suspicion that make it “near impossible for people to recieve the assistance they’re are entitled to.”
The Minister took a few different angles in her response:
1) she said it’s not a large problem yet she’s not willing to back this statement by a comprehensive review.
Part of the problem with the statistics is we are hearing an increasing number of stories about people being told no with no paper trail. So these cases doesn’t show up in the statistics.
There are also very significant problems with the complexity of the legislation and the legalistic appeal process that is completly skewed in favour of the government. Imagine you have a neurological condition or an anxiety disorder, or very poor English… and to challenge a decision you need to take on the Department and their lawyers.
For people appealing decisions related to health conditions, the only option they have is to go to the Medical Appeal Board, made up of three medical people appointed by the Ministry who may over rule their GP or specialists opinion without having any specialisation or particular knowledge of that condition. Beyond that you need a judicial review.
2) she suggested I should send these cases to her, implying I don’t really care about these people. These people have got assistance. The issue I was raising was that these decisions happened in the first place. I worry for the thousands of others who don’t know they can challenge the decisions or don’t have assistance to do it. Last month Auckland Action Against poverty helped over 250 people in just three days. All the anecdotal evidence is telling us there is a very real and increasing problem. The Minister needs to do a comprehensive audit to disprove this.
2) she didn’t believe the last example which tells me she needs to get out there and listen to more people in the community .While I find each of these examples shocking, I have heard so many shocking stories now that they no longer surprise me. Her job is in large part to deliver social security assistance to those who need it and she can talk all she likes about the wrap around services but if people are not getting their legal entitlements/help when they need it she is failing in her duty to the most vulnerable.