Tag Archives: benefit

An extra 0.51 percent!

Today, benefit rates increased in line with the Consumer Price Index, a whopping 0.51%! This means that a Jobseeker aged 25 or over will receive an increase of $1.07 per week, bringing them up to all of $210.13 per week after tax. Such wealth. Riches! An 18-25-year-old living away from home has the even more princely sum of $175.10 per week after tax. For comparison, a 40-hour week on minimum wage will give you a take-home pay of $505.60.

I’ve never laid out benefit numbers like that before, and it’s frankly horrifying. The amount we hand our poor to live on is so far below the amount it costs to live that it’s criminal. A person living on minimum wage is persistently broke, because it’s not enough to really save for unexpected expenses, and it doesn’t even cover everyday expenses very well. It’s far from the living wage of $19.25 per hour, which works out to $654.10 in hand each week, and is an amount calculated to allow people to fully participate in society rather than missing out on important things (like dental work) and even having to ability to save. But minimum wage is a survivable wage. Just.

$210.13 is not enough to live on. It’s obscenely low, and it speaks volumes about what our society thinks of people who are out of work. It’s a shameful attitude, and one that is shamelessly propagated by our current government. Focusing on benefit fraudsters, and methods to try and force people into work, further demonises people who are in a vulnerable position.

To be blunt, we are abusing the poor, in our attitudes and in our actions. I refuse to pass judgement on anyone on a benefit, because it is not my place to judge people whose lives I have no understanding of. I know enough sociology and psychology to know that I cannot understand all of the forces acting on a person’s life and how they shape their world, and I am not arrogant enough to pretend to understand. Without understanding, judgement is wholly inappropriate.

I don’t care if someone is a ‘dole bludger’. They do not deserve the abuse they get. I am ashamed of the treatment of people who do not have the resources to live a waged life, whether temporarily or permanently. The artificial division between the deserving and the undeserving poor is cruel, because it allows people to continue to condemn beneficiaries in general, while accepting that there are a few (mostly the people they know on benefits) who really need them to help them get back on their feet, or because they’re ‘legitimately’ ill or disabled. The truth is that most people on the non-sickness part of Jobseeker Support are back in the workforce within a year. Sick people on the Jobseeker Support (whose dumb idea was it to moosh together people looking for work and people currently too sick to work? Really!) have to prove, repeatedly, exhaustingly, expensively, that yes, they are actually really sick. You can’t just grab a sickness benefit because you feel like it. As for people on the Supported Living Payment? You have to make a deal with the devil and seal the pact in the blood of a consecrated newborn to get that!

I don’t really care, though, whether a beneficiary is ‘deserving’ or not. They all deserve a decent amount of money, enough to live on and not have to choose between having food or power this week. Why? Because I don’t class human beings as ‘deserving’ or ‘not deserving’ of having a decent quality of life. Everyone should be able to have shelter, food, warmth, and health care. Being too poor to buy groceries or go to the doctor is simply unacceptable.

Yet I saw yesterday an ACT party member bewailing the burden an extra dollar or two per week puts on the taxpayer. Yes, people who work for their money deserve their post-tax earnings. But to complain that other humans will get not even enough money for a bottle of milk extra each week is churlish in the extreme. Where, sir, is your humanity?

I don’t know what I can do for people on benefits. I will never be a policy maker or politician. I can petition and variously agitate for change, but it seems like it’s not enough. I give to charities that focus on New Zealand poverty – I can only hope that little bit makes a difference.

Beneficiaries are people. That’s the bottom line. And people deserve the basics of life. Benefits do not pay enough to provide those basics.

What works and what doesn’t

There’s an excellent article written recently about working, welfare, and mental health that’s really rather worth looking at. I don’t agree completely with it, but it makes some very good points about wellness and ability to work, and the results of both good and bad jobs. What interests me, however, is the very last line.

The final paragraph is a statement from the Director of Welfare Reform at WINZ. She informs us that there have been changes to the way WINZ deals with the mentally ill (but doesn’t hint at what these changes might be, beyond the obvious renaming of sick people from ‘ill’ to ‘seeking work’). She talks about individualised support, overcoming barriers, and other great buzzwords. Finally, she says

If you need help, come and talk to us.

I choked on my tea. Come and talk to us? That’s the last thing that anyone wants to do. Talk to people that are often not exactly lovely to the people they work with. Talk to people who are stuck within a shitty system of problematic policies. Talk to people who invariably have no idea how mental illness impacts a life. Talk to people who are paid to see you as a loafer who just needs to get up and get a job and get off the benefit, to stop being a drag on society.

The experience of going to WINZ is demeaning and dehumanising. Your personal circumstances, your personal banking details, everything is fair game to your case manager and they aren’t always above making you feel like a lesser human being because of it.

I’ve never personally experienced the seminars ‘offered to’ (forced on) Jobseekers. When mental health needs conflict with the ability to attend compulsory seminars, what then? Some case managers will work with you. Some will cut your benefit with nothing but an official letter. If you’re too unwell to attend your seminar, are you going to be able to come and see them?

Being classed as a Jobseeker means that people with mental illnesses have an expectation laid on them to go out and get a job. That’s fine for people that are doing pretty well, who will be helped by a good job that can help them build a sense of normality and even of pride in themselves, as happened to the young man in the article. For people on the worse side of the mental health existence, pressure to get a job when you’re flatly incapable just makes things worse. A person with badly- or un-controlled schizophrenia complete with delusions and hallucinations is not ready for employment, and they definitely aren’t in a position where coming in and seeing WINZ staff is even vaguely a good idea.

Someone with severe depression is going to struggle to go and see WINZ. Hell, they often struggle to get out of bed. And if they manage to come and see WINZ, what then? Who there has any idea about how debilitating depression can be? The awareness programmes that have run in the past ten years or more don’t show anything like how bad it can get. It’s all just glossed over, and in a way it makes it worse, because Joe Case Manager has this idea that it’s a problem, but it goes away, and it can be worked through. So Joe Case Manager has no sympathy and a list of jobs to apply for.

Mental health is not catered for in the WINZ system, no matter what they say. There’s no true understanding of what their clients are experiencing at any level – why would mental health be treated with any more understanding than the plight of a pregnant newly-single mother? Come and talk to us? Yeah, right.