Work and Income – stories from hidden people

This morning I caught up with a group of people who have been mandated to attend a pre-employment course by Work and Income.

There was a wide range of people on the course, from the young to those close to retirement age, sole parents, people with a range of fairly serious illnesses as well as people just really wanting a job. There were very well respected community members and people who have been struggling for a while.

Everyone, including the tutors was worried about what  is happening in Work and Income.

Among the issues they raised with me was the basic inadequacy of income. One young man gets $144 pw and has to pay $100 for rent, excluding expenses, leaving him $44 a week to cover all his costs . The young woman next to him was around the same age and had $80 income over her rent each week. They all felt that what you got was really dependent on luck and the case manager on the day.

The same young man had to leave the session with his tutor because , we were told, he was about to have his benefit cut for not turning up to WINZ instigated meetings. This was despite the tutor having a letter saying that the students were not required to attend Work and Income meetings while on the course.

The efforts the man had to go through to convince work and income staff that he had not been non-compliant were mind-boggling. Added to the injustice of it all was that the meeting he was being punished for not attending was a budgeting session; to learn how to pay for everything with his $44pw.

A tutor was also very concerned that a mother had had her benefit cut in half for missing three days of the course when it turned out she and her baby had been admitted to hospital after getting the flu and having seizures. She didn’t have enough money on her phone to tell anyone.

I heard from a student about how they’d  previously had their benefit sanctioned for missing an appointment because their public transport was running late.

This is exactly what is happening. The sheer reality of being poor means there are times when people can’t afford to meet the expectations of Work and Income.

Everyone in the room talked about not being able to afford to heat their house or put proper food on the table. The young ones also talked about not being able to afford even the blankets to compensate for the lack of heating.

They were all looking for work but, even though the course was helping, they felt demoralised.

Each week they are given a wad of paper with around 60 jobs to apply for – the same jobs everyone else with work test obligations in the entire Wellington region are applying for too. Their cover letters and CVs go to one staff member who chooses who to put forward and they don’t get any feedback at all.

One woman talked about really wanting a full time job and how she’d been unsuccessfully applying for some and had been keeping her ‘work coach’ informed of her plans and efforts. Then one day her coach told her she needed to start looking for full time work, as if she hadn’t been listening to a thing she’d been saying.

I also heard from an employer who had asked Work and Income  to send through CVs for them to consider. Surprised at poor standard of the CVs they raised it with the Work and Income broker who acknowledged the CVs had been of a poor quality as if there was nothing they could do about it.

I would have thought if this was a meaningful process they would have given that feedback to those applying for work and given them help to improve their CVs before submitting them.

Concerns were also raised about people really wanting to work but being offered limited hour part-time jobs that, because of secondary tax, the abatement rate and the fact it would make them ineligible for temporary additional income support, were just not financially viable.

People were also struggling to pay to go to their doctor and had family members with conditions exacerbated by stress who were really suffering.

We talked about what options people had and they said they felt powerless. There aren’t many advocates in their area and it’s really hard to know what their entitlements are. No-one wanted to go to the media or speak publically because they’ve seen how people are vilified.

So it’s up to us to speak up for and demand a fairer system. This system is not helping anyone.

Those on welfare need support to work, enough to live on in the meantime and the sense that they are included in society. Otherwise, what kind of society are we?

21 Comments Posted

  1. I was full-time carer for my elderly mother for 6 years until she died last year aged 95. I have since applied for dozens of jobs, but can’t even get an interview. After living on my modest savings for over 9 months I’ve now been forced to apply for a benefit.

    If Peter Dunne’s Flexi-super proposal is passed, it will be a particularly cruel punishment as I turn 60 next year. Even though Dunne claims it will be voluntary, I doubt there will be much choice for the unemployed or ill. If I live to the same age as my mother, I would be stuck with the lowest rate for the rest of my life – what a bleak prospect.

  2. I’m a bit late to this discussion; I was on the unemployment benefit for a year after finishing my postgraduate studies, as I just couldn’t find a job anywhere. Right at the lowest of my lows my case worker said to me “you are a horrible person to work with.”

    Great job, Winz.

  3. I live by the mantra, ‘The squeaky gate gets the oil.’ However it hasn’t applied in the case of WINZ. I believe a lot of it is about staff training. Effective, meaningful Attitudinal training would be a good start. Never mind about overseas ideas, use our own for our own.

  4. It is often poor staff training, in regards what the Social Security Act actually says, and wider notions of citizenship and human rights.
    Not that I want more work, but if people have benefit rights issues, such as lack of “full and correct entitlement”, email me and my colleagues at
    I only checked my emails today due to pressure of too many havig too little.

  5. PS The good staff who make better decisions get out of the disfunctional environment as they know they are not getting anywhere, leaving the less able and over a period of time the disfunction is promoted.
    Also with political attitudes like National in charge the management you get from the top down is defensive, uncooperative, self seeking so those with real ability- the shining stars – are not promoted as they will question. This applies to the type of contract function that applies also.

  6. The type of reaction different groups get come down to staff selection and training which is a management issue, or worse still a choice to make things unpleasant – policy. I have been told of an unpleasant experience of a pakeha being processed by a not very fluent Indian who was unable to see a kiwi perspective of some basic issues. Maybe good for Indians arriving but unable to find work but no good for the general run.
    The reason those making a noise get traction is the managers know the politicians will get involved and leave them in the lurch.
    WINZ and CYFS have both shown major signs of disfunction and they both have Paula Bennet as Minister.
    I still think some dedicated pensioners could rattle the process – see my previous posting.

  7. Actually, I think that the staff have a secondary evaluation Sam, if you complain and appear to be likely to have the ability to make a LOT of trouble, then you get the better treatment you describe.

    If you have poor English and an unclear understanding… the demographic that needs the most help… nothing changes.

  8. “Don’t bother complaining, youre just red flagging yourself as a trouble maker.”

    Actually, complaining seems quite effective – as soon as you appear to be a troublemaker, WINZ tend to give you what you are entitled to and avoid future contact with you as much as possible.

  9. Sue Maroney has a great website link with the survey for beneficiaries. Networking beneficiaries onto this site helps the cause but how do you put it in front of people – I guess outside the offices – is their a history of moving this sort of thing on for “security reasons”. Pensioners would be the least vulnerable and create the most public response.

  10. WINZ has adopted ACC’s full repertoire of dirty tricks – as recommended by the Welfare Working Group members who continue to feed from the public trough, via their appointments on the “boards” of both ACC and WINZ. Cutting welfare expenditure by shifting the costs of unemployment, sickness, disability, and caring for dependent family members, is now WINZ’s sole objective. Relieving poverty is not. Like most people, I have absolutely no idea whether opposition political parties will change this objective (or whether they can change bureaucracy) or whether they are just posturing to gain votes before 20 September.

  11. To the FB commenter who said “A lot of examples seem to be relating to poor staff training and poor processes.”

    Yes, it’s about how staff are being trained and the processes being used. The responsibility for this lies squarely with Paula Bennett and the National Government’s welfare reform agenda. These aren’t incompetencies, they’re the result of intentional policy.

  12. Thanks for this Jan, it’s a very good write up of how bad things have gotten and how much despair this creates for people.

    Can you please tell us if the Green Party is going to include Social Security as one of its priorities in post-election negotiations? Had the GP done any work yet on how to restore WINZ to the agency it should be ie one that helps and supports those in need?

    It’s important to hear the stories, but if the political parties don’t take action not much is going to change.

  13. Ive been on & off benefits for several years, after being made redundant from a long-term job.. I tend to find that winz staff do their jobs OK with the resources available, herein lies the real issue; over the term of this Govt. I have seen a decrease in staff numbers at the local winz office, but likely an increase in ‘clients’, causing stress on both sides. BUT, I wonder whether it is ‘Govt. policy’ to keep clients in the dark on their FULL entitlements though ?

    I attended a ‘ready for work’ training program, a few years ago. The thing that struck me (I made it clear to staff) was that there were people from all age groups & work backgrounds, BUT we were all given the same basic agenda & treated like we were school leavers, looking for our first job !
    I think this shows how out-of-touch this Minister really is !!

  14. Another thought. Maybe Green, Labour, Mana, Maori Party MPs could set up a register of beneficiaries that have complaints so that they can speak up knowing some MPs are also watching WINZ from another angle, and can speak out if WINZ gets rediculous. Suitably publicised it is another string to the little persons fight.

  15. Thank you for the confirmation of the problems to expect with WINZ. I am recently put on the Supported Living Payment as I am diagnosed with early Parkinson’s disease, a result of heavy metals in old mine water runoff. I went to my Doctors for my second monthly Medical Certificate – a process I was told of progressing into longer periods between visits. When I took this to my local WINZ office they were surprised as my file was marked as not needing a Medical until 2016 (after my retirement age). This cost me a trip to my doctor in my previous town of residence and the wasted time and money of a visit to the WINZ, plus the call centre for an appointment. Applying their own rules about notification of changed circumstances an email could have told me.
    I don’t blame the staff but it is the work load created by stupid management systems that have the wrong assumptions about human effort and conditions. The whole process is designed by overpayed idiots that play the National party blame game. At the same time coal face staff are probably underpayed and under staffed while John Key and his mates get tax cuts to sell the assets that create the jobs.
    The answer is to change the government and this requires each of these victims of the process to tell their neighbourhood in some way – letters to the editor or on TV Facebook etc.
    I see for my age group a complete waste of an economic resource of knowledge as we could be educating the younger on all sorts of work and life skills, something else our economy is supposed to be short of.
    This government might be able to count money but as for the wisdom of economic resource allocation they are useless.

  16. It is a demeaning, bullying, stand over environment, where I have wondered – where on earth did they get their training from? Don’t bother complaining, youre just red flagging yourself as a trouble maker. People are pushed into behaviours they wouldn’t normally do to survive in this concrete jungle world. WINZ staff slash and burn tactics result in shifting the problem elsewhere in the community.

  17. Does this mean the Greens will do something to restore benefit to pre Ruthenasia levels? Or do beneficiaries have more pity to look forward to?

  18. Interesting point about the CVs – were these the people’s own CVs, or the ones WINZ insists on writing on an automated system? I was told last year by a WINZ staffer that WINZ used an off-the-shelf system purchased from the US, that the staff found difficult as it used US terms for job titles which they didn’t understand. When I presented them with my CV, they wasted no end of time re-writing it into their own system, then presented me with a astoundingly inaccurate account of my work record, which I then had to spend ages with a case manager looking for vaguely accurate categories to fit myself into. According to their original attempt, I had been a lecturer in communication studies, when I’d actually been working as a communications manager for an NGO, and a forestry worker, selecting and cutting trees, when I’d been actually been a Department of Conservation hut warden!

  19. Your post is spot on Jan, but is only the tip of a dehumanising iceberg in my recent experience. Conformance with the rules is required irregardless of common sense and my impression is that one argues with them at your peril. WINZ processes put departmental needs ahead of individual needs. Dependence on WINZ when times are hard is not something newbies to welfare will enjoy – perhaps that is their intention in the way they treat people.

  20. Hi, Loved what you have written here. I am on a Jobseekers benefit, actually it used to be a sickness benefit/dpb as I am not allowed to work until my doctor states otherwise. I am raising 2 teens and have a son who gets child disability, he has a moderate brain disorder. Every week I am mean’t to try to feed my kids, keep a roof over their heads and also keep us warm via one very small oil heater as I can’t afford the wood for the fireplace. I am wanting to move to the South Island at the end of the year as it will be more affordable for us. My girls are heading to Uni and there will only be my little one and myself so renting in Auckland after Xmas will be a joke as there is no way in hell we will be able to afford even a one bedroom and manage to pay for utilities with what I will be living on. I went to Winz last week to ask if they could help with the move and/or if they could help with winter clothing for the kids. I was told that I stood a better chance getting these things if I had a job. As I stated before they knew about my many health issues including the fact that my son is disabled and he doesn’t sleep much because his brain doesn’t produce Melatonin which in the long run means 2-3 days a week we don’t get to school, so how in the world am I’m suppose to work?, who would hire someone that can make it to work if she can walk without the constant pain or her son doesn’t get a good nights sleep?..The woman at Winz told me that while I was there she had to check that my son’s CDA was actually classed as extra income..My childs disability, extra income? Where in the world are these people trained?..Dumbfounded wasn’t the way I felt that day. I am sick to death of these people at Winz having control over my life, If I could work I would, and I will be moving, even without their help I will sell off everything bar our beds and the necessities and start again, as it is either that or living in my car in the New Year…Some life us as New Zealanders have now. Oh, and one more wee fact, my benefit in the last 4 years has risen by an extra $4.00 and my rent by $100..that made it so much easier to survive..Right.

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