So it turns out yesterday’s story about WINZ cuts to dental care loans was wrong, and through no fault of Radio New Zealand who ran it.
The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has today corrected the Official Information Act release the story was based on. The corrected numbers now show fairly steady dispersal of loans and grants for emergency dental care since 2010.
While this is good news, the situation is still very confusing. I continue to hear stories of people being told they can only get money for extractions, not things like root canals or crowns. I have also heard people being told not to bother applying.
It’s strange that this doesn’t seem to show up in the statistics. It’s hard to have confidence in the statistics when the Ministry can apparently get them so wrong themselves.
Beyond this, I must say I think it is just bizarre that alarms bells did not go off in MSD when they found there had apparently been a 99% decline in advance payments for dental care.
It is even more bizarre that MSD initially sought to explain that drop, in an email copied to me, by saying there had been a policy change in 2012 that precluded the payment of advances for emergency dental care.
There wasn’t a policy change, so that bit was made up. A policy change of that magnitude would actually have been unlawful, as it would have unreasonably restrained MSD case managers from exercising their statutory discretion to grant advance payments of benefit, but no one involved with this at MSD seemed to realise that.
Furthermore, MSD has now effectively told the entire country via yesterday’s Radio New Zealand story that beneficiaries can’t get loans for dental care, and have not corrected that publicly.
The National Government’s welfare reforms have been overwhelming for staff and beneficiaries alike, and the cuts to back room MSD staff significant, but quality of information informs decision making. Mistakes like this matter.