Hiding behind beneficiaries and accusations of fraud

Yesterday we found out that MSD plans home visits to “check in” on sole parent beneficiaries after 14 weeks to make sure they’re still living alone.

The Minister has noted “relationships could develop quickly and some people might not be aware of their obligation to tell Work and Income.” This is actually not even true. It’s fine to be on the DPB and have a relationship. You can even live with a girlfriend or boyfriend and not have to tell them. The legislative test is whether your relationship is in the nature of marriage and this requires financial interdependence, (meaning actual or a willingness to support if the need arose), cohabitation and emotional commitment.

The government is trying to make this sound benign, helpful, friendly even but it is undoubtedly an incredibly invasive initiative of the scale we’ve never seen before in New Zealand.

Work and income staff are not generally on friendly terms with people needing their assistance. The power imbalance is completely out of wack. Further, it sounds as if integrity services will be visiting people in their homes. That is intimidating.

How are they going to prove a relationship from a home visit? What will happen if someone says no thanks at the door?

We need to remember too that many of the people they will be visiting will be women in the process of leaving violent relationships. This is on top of the work test obligations, threats of drug testing, and social obligations specific just to them because now they’re on a benefit they obviously can’t make good decisions for their children. We need remember too that all around the country women in violent relationships will be learning more about what life will be like for them if they leave and need income support. These stories will be a factor in their decisions to leave or not.

These policies undermine our efforts to look after vulnerable children and reduce domestic violence and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s a bigger problem for us as a country than any welfare dependency.

Yet, while I say all this, today in select committee we heard, contrary to what has been reported, that they’re actually just planning on piloting this. They won’t be targeting everyone on the DPB – just some but they couldn’t tell us who – a National member of the committee helpfully suggested it might be trialled in different geographical areas, possibly balanced by gender and ethnicity.

They’re not allocating any extra staff or resources to it, at this stage, and haven’t even worked out where or how they’re going to do it.

I’m sure they will roll this out at some stage but considering how it’s been presented vs the apparent lack of real policy work behind it, it’s hard not to see this as another example of beneficiary baiting to distract from their other political failures.

18 Comments Posted

  1. National turn the working poor against the beneficiary poor.

    Its all a smoke screen to divert attention away from the real thieves like John Key ………

    “The facts are indisputable, the conclusion painful. The wealthiest people in the U.S. and around the world have used the stock market and the deregulated financial system to lay claim to the resources that should belong to all of us.

    This is not a matter of productive people benefiting from their contributions to society. This is a relatively small number of people extracting massive amounts of money through the financial system for accomplishing almost nothing”.

    Greedy people like John Key increase poverty ….. but blame the poor.

  2. Making life hard for solo parents and their kids is core national party policy…..

    Some-ones got to grow up and fill those money making for profit private prisons …….

  3. There are a number of issues here, some of which are being totally ignored.
    1. As long as the government allows banks to control the amount of money in circulation and to create money as a loan to that Government, charging exorbitant rates of interest, there will always be poverty.
    2. While the Government continues to sell out our manufacturing sector to overseas interests there will be poverty.
    3 As long as there is poverty people will do anything to survive, prey on others, cheat the system etc. etc.
    4. The problem is not one of benefit fraud it is one of injustice. Before you argue this statement take a single mum who has left a brutal partner. The Government then denies her the opportunity to work and deprives her of dignity by keeping her in poverty whilst continually oppressing her. This is injustice and inhumanity!! Nelson Mandela, whose example we need to follow, stood up for human dignity and compassion and learned to forgive even his oppressors. The Rabbi Yeshua once said, “Do not judge others because you might invite judgment upon yourself.”

  4. A bit more history… the real reason, in my opinion why the dawn raids stopped in the 1970s was because all brown-skinned people were targeted by incompetent raiders…leading to opposition from Maori…. It was not because of concern for Pacific, whether they were over-stayers or not.
    I suspect solo-mums in paid work might be raided because of similar imcompentence…and that will defeat the policy, not the unfairness of solo-mums on a benefit, “guilty or otherwise.

  5. Section 63 of the social Security Act, the one at the heart of relationships in the nature of a marriage has an interesting history. It covers with a piece of paper (a marriage licence) being able to get single person/solo-parent benefits prior to divorce and those with no peices of paper.
    Prior to a famous Court of Appeal case (Ruka) DSW as it was then did not have any regard for domestic violence. As long as she cooked him meals and he had sex with her, you could not get the DPB which is why they prosecuted her and others. The Court of Appeal, the highest residential court in NZ said “no” and aid Ruka was not in a relationship in the nature of a marriage
    Then DSW were tardy reviewing prior cases of a similar nature and they tried to get the government to write the Ruka case out of existence by trying to change the law. They were forced to back-track…but in more recent years, the presence of domestic violence is less influential in the MSD investigations.
    The problem with the dawn raids is the presumption of guilt….and one-night stands or flings do not make a relationship one in the nature of a marriage.

  6. Mr Stringer, You could read it like that or your could read it the stuff above the, “To give you a better idea of what we mean by this, think about whether:”
    As another way of describing what the conditions/definition of a relationship is. There was no indent to show that statement was only regarding the “There also needs to be a degree of companionship in which two people”

    But reading it your way, then having a sexual relationship counts as being “committed to each other emotionally for the foreseeable future and financially interdependent on each other.”

    The document is very portly written and could be interpreted as I have described.

  7. So, hellonearthis

    What prompted you to omit “There also needs to be a degree of companionship in which two people are:
    committed to each other emotionally for the foreseeable future and financially interdependent on each other.” From the same reference.

    Oh! Right! That would have negated your (feeble attempt at making a) point.

  8. NZ in fact had dawn raids targeting the undesirables not that ago, thus undertaking them for some “greater” good is not surprising. We began the descent some time. it is just that sometimes the slope varies in steepness.
    As for universal policies, how about “full employment” at a “living wage” and no (domestic violence.
    Alternatively we could blame victims for their poverty, their misery and sloth and inability to cook decent meals….just as the UK Government did in 1934 in the height of the Great Depression to justify cuts in poor law relief.
    We need to choose to ascend towards dare I say it “a decent society”.

    Sent while on “holiday”

  9. Turning the objection into a slogan, I wonder who else could be offered offensive assistance to avoid committing crimes.

  10. This presumably would mean either very early or very late visits to the home. Possibly with the presumption that those who do not allow entry were demonstrating that they have something (cohabitation) to hide.

    After 14 weeks (the warning just means a signal for evasion), would likely soon become randomly once every 14 weeks or so.

    One wonders what questions would be asked about the nature of any relationship with a flatmate or boarder (possibly someone else on a benefit) with whom household costs were shared.

  11. My experience as a benefit rights advocate of Ministry staff, be it case managers, service centre management, regional management, call centres or those in the specialist units such their Integrity Services (formally National Fraud Investigation Unit) is its a mixed bag.
    One NFIU man said to the sole-mother he would “like to visit for coffee after the investigation” before he turned on the tape-recorder. Obviously he said-she said…but the fact bhe was moved on says a lot.
    We aaso, as advocates have to argue how many beatings, involving imprisonment does it take until a relationship is not in the nature of a marriage because he bought her dinner and they had on occasion consensual sex.
    Others are much more understanding of due process and the law of the land.
    Be wary of sample sizes of one…my sample size is in the dozens of the NFIU, and 1000s in regards case managers and the call centres etc.
    The planned Home visits are nothing but abuse of single parents on a benefit.

  12. I think the Minister is ‘painting all beneficiaries with the same brush’ as if all are somehow cheating the system. I have been on & off benefits for a while (since being made redundant from a long term job) & tend to find WINZ staff are professional & on the whole courteous, BUT methinks this current minister has single-handedly changed the landscape for the staff & beneficiaries, to one of mistrust !

  13. The hounding of beneficiaries who might be in intimate relationships I believe to be an infringement of human rights. Every person needs a friend, especially those in circumstances where they need to ask for state assistance. A good, helpful friend can be hard to get, yet it is those very people on benefits (that have a good, helpful friend) that WINZ hounds. Often that good friend is an intimate one. Life is hard enough, on your own (no partner) on a benefit, and any help is usually gratefully appreciated. When you have children it can be hard to find some company and if a woman can’t find decent adult company to share the good and bad times with it makes it all the harder, and can lead to child neglect while they seek the company they need (who on a benefit can afford to pay babysitters at $40 or more for an evening?) when all they need is someone to talk to? Benefits should be assessed more on gross income and financial and emotional support rather than if they have a close/ intimate friend.

    Then there are a lot of men out there that prey on vulnerable women on benefits with children. These men may have tendencies to violence yet because these women are isolated they end up depending on these men. A woman’s lot on the DPB is a hard one, made all the harder by the cruel laws of WINZ. So many women charged with fraud for having a partner say that they were only trying to do their best for their children. Often they are not any better financially but they get emotional and chore job support, which they need in order to remain sane. DPB doesn’t even keep the wolves from the door but WINZ expects these women to keep them from their doors. Changing that draconian WINZ law is long, long overdue.

  14. Work and income staff are not generally on friendly terms with people needing their assistance

    When I found myself in need of unemployment benefit I found the staff I dealt with to be professional and courteous.

    Sample size of one, I know, but that is my experience. I’m quite prepared to believe that others have different experiences.

  15. How true, those who determine the attitude of staff are well aware that those on super vote, treat them well and keep them happy. I wonder how many on super could well afford to live without it? Would you consider them deceitful f they hold out their hands for a benefit when they are super rich and have trusts and investments and numerous houses from which they draw rent?

    Those thrown out of work by the numerous closures of small businesses become, within seconds, bludgers and useless members of society through no fault of their own.

    The figures were posted recently showing the amount of cheating going on by beneficiaries and compared with the amount of cheating taking place by the wealthy in avoiding the payment of income tax. The latter were stealing much more.

    Of course the first people are criminals the latter are just using loop holes in the system.

    Volunteer to work at your local Citizens Advice Bureau and hear the work the advocates do on behalf of folk who are having problems with staff at some WINZ offices.

  16. Of course Dave will have been treated well by WINZ staff, who were “friendly, informative and very helpful”. I was, too, when I became a superannuitant. Dave and I belong to the ‘deserving’, who have qualified for a universal benefit, as everyone will one day. When it comes to discretionary benefits the scene changes dramatically. I worked as a social worker for the Dept.of Social Welfare for many years and saw first hand how those on discretionary benefits were treated. Among other things we were sometimes required required to act on the suspicions of the benefit staff and make surprise calls on domestic purpose beneficiaries to check on whether they might have a man living with them. In those days most people on discretionary benefits (DPB, sickness, invalids) were treated as if they were out to beat the system,and there were all kinds of ways in which they were checked on. They had to endure all manner of enquiries into their personal affairs by staff who were perpetually suspicious. They were seen as fundamentally ‘undeserving’. Nothing has changed. This government’s approach has been around a very long time (ever since the Poor Law) – it is just being more blatant about it. Of course there are those who will try to beat the system – there is at every level of society (even politicians!)- but beneficiaries(apart from superannuitants!) are subject to more suspicion, scrutiny, and regulation than any other group I can think of (when I worked for the Dept. there nine 3in.thick manuals governing benefits). If you’re going to receive a ‘hand-out’ from society you’re supposed to have a higher standard of behaviour than the rest of us. And we’ll appoint people to watch you and catch you being lazy or wasteful or dishonest or careless or not obeying the rules – and we’ll threaten to take your money off you if you do. I can understand why some might rebel against that.

  17. Work and income staff are not generally on friendly terms with people needing their assistance. The power imbalance is completely out of wack.

    Sorry, but this is twaddle. Having recently become eligible for NZ Super, I have met with several people at WINZ, they have be en friendly, informative and very helpful, going out of their way to ensure I understood what I am and am not entitled to.

    As for an “out of wack” power balance, there is not meant to be a balance of power in this relationship. The power resides in the law and is administered by public servants. If you are not entitled to something you are not entitled to it, and random sampling of claimants to ensure they are not rorting the system seems perfectly right to me, in exactly the same way that the police use speed cameras to randomly check if drivers are obeying the speed limit laws.

    I would hate NZ to end up in the same state as Detroit because our politicians don’t believe in people having to demonstrate their entitlement to tax-payer funded benefits.

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