What’s could be done better?

Staff and services need to treat people with manaaki, respect, compassion and aroha.

Participants with first-hand experience of the welfare system (177 respondents) were asked to rate that experience on a scale between 0 (Poor) and 6 (Excellent). 81 percent of people chose a rating of three or less. In other words, four out of five people had negative experiences of the welfare system.

People talked about feeling judged and stigmatised.

“In the dealings with WINZ I felt stigmatised and very aware that I was in an environment where I was considered to be on the bottom rung of the ladder of society.”

  • Anon, 32, Wellington

“When I was on the DPB with three young children I was made to feel like a third class citizen which was difficult. I had to plead for things for my children, often to no avail. Now on Super the attitude is different but it shouldn't have been. Suddenly I'm respectable.”

  • Sarah, 70, Paraparaumu

“We have three special needs children and we are now homeschooling our very aggressive 11 year old. Two of our three children will need life long care. We shouldn't be considered ‘unemployed’. It’s degrading, stressful, belittling and just unfair. I am working every day but considered ‘not working’ by society and a ‘drain’. Because of our circumstances, our choices in life have diminished and ticking the box of beneficiary does not exactly get you far. It's a stigma parents like us should be able to shed. If the Government can pay agencies tens of thousands every year if their disabled children are put into care (privately run profit driven agencies) then why can't the parents be afforded some dignity and be given a title of carer. This would enable us to access WFF as well.”

  • Joanna, 40, Manawatū

“Becoming unexpectedly unemployed in 2014 from being fully employed, I was treated as a lowlife by many staff and often left the WINZ office to go home and cry. At least now I only have to meet with staff once to twice a year. I do as much as possible to avoid having to go into the WINZ office. 0800 phone staff are lovely but the wait time is absolutely ridiculous!”

  • Suzanne, 43, Invercargill

“I have found that some staff make us feel inferior about being on the dole without having any idea about what we are going through.”

  • Henrietta, 55, Taneatua

“I receive the child disability allowance for my son with autism, and I have found people to be friendly and helpful for that. However, I believe they are not so friendly to those on other benefits.”

  • Ali, 50, Christchurch

People talked about not getting the help they needed at some of the most difficult times of their life.

“I tried to get a Housing New Zealand property but was turned down. I was in a domestically violent marriage. I cannot drive. I asked for help so I could learn. But they keep changing the case manager so you have to tell your story all over again. There needs to be privacy, there is none. There needs to be respect, there is none.”

  • Anon, 55, Christchurch

“I was widowed at the start of the year and my job was school term only. I would have to go through the stressful process of WINZ every school holidays to support my daughter and I. We would create a debt with WINZ every time. That debt accumulates pretty fast and hangs shamefully over our heads. It shouldn't be that way. I hate that I am treated as a solo single mother when I didn't choose this. My husband died. Six times on the initial paperwork I had to write the ‘date your relationship ended’ when my husband had just died, not ended our relationship. It was devastating.”

  • Lisa, 37, Auckland

“My husband had been in and out of hospital and we were on the Emergency Benefit. One time I had to go into WINZ to get our benefit checked. As well as telling me I wasn't working hard enough (I couldn't leave my husband alone at home for more than a couple of hours at a time) the staff member I saw said my husband needed to get a sickness report from our GP. We took the forms, made a Doctor's appointment, had the forms filled out ($40), and made another appointment at WINZ. This all took a couple of weeks.

The second visit to WINZ we saw another staff member. I handed over the papers, she reviewed the file and told me it was the wrong form. I needed to return to the Doctor and get the Disability forms filled out. I questioned this. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that she was correct and if we wanted the benefit I needed to do as she said.

So it was making another appointment to see the Doctor, getting the Disability forms filled out, paying another $40, making an appointment back at WINZ and returning with the forms. Again, nearly two weeks.

Yet again I returned with the papers to WINZ and handed them over to yet another staff member. This staff member took a look at the forms, turned to me and said, 'These are the wrong forms. You need the Sickness Benefit forms.' I watched in disbelief as she threw $40 in the bin.

When I regained my voice I said I had already handed in the completed sickness forms. The staff member shrugged and told me that the sickness forms I had handed in had expired the day before and I would need to get new ones filled out. So it was back to the Doctor again (another $40) and then back to WINZ.

I was very angry and called up the WINZ line to complain - only to be told that I should have known that the first sickness benefit forms were only valid for one month. Therefore it was all my fault."

  • Jennifer, Hamilton

“I lost my job after I returned from maternity leave, only to find there was no work. I applied for a benefit just before Christmas and it was the worst three weeks of my life. I was already depressed about my situation. I considered suicide at one point as I felt I had little options. I had a four-month-old baby and no job and the amount I was to receive left me with nothing for food. The last time I phoned, I burst into tears because I didn't know how I was going to feed my kids. When I applied for the benefit, the case manager kept talking loudly on purpose so everyone could hear certain bits of personal information. That was embarrassing.”

  • Aimee, Nelson

People feel ignored.

“Our latest experience with WINZ has been through an accommodation benefit, and a childcare subsidy. We only discovered these benefits through extensive research ourselves. My wife had harrowing experiences with WINZ. Out of nowhere our accommodation benefit was cut and we were told we owed WINZ money. We are not in the group of people who suffer the most in this country, but even in the middle class things are tough, and to suddenly lose $150 of income hurts. The childcare subsidy was worse, it took two months to sort out. My wife no longer wishes to have anything to do with WINZ so we miss out on any help we might be entitled to. On top of this we wrote a complaint to WINZ and have never received acknowledgement of receipt of this complaint. They have completely ignored our concerns.”

  • Matthew, 36, Wellington

People with disabilities or long-term illnesses talked about the absurdity of having to prove they were still sick or disabled to get their benefit.

“Having to get proof from my doctor that my disability is still here is extremely insulting and unpleasant. It feels very humiliating.”

  • Aelinor, 26, Auckland

“I have a son with a lifelong disability and every year I am expected to take him to the doctor and pay $55 to confirm he is still disabled. Ridiculous!”

  • Angela, Auckland

“Remove pressure on people with disabilities to continually prove unfitness for work.”

  • Mary, Wellington.