Thursday, August 29, 2013

Grandparents pinged by Paula Bennett's welfare reforms

In mid-July of this year, the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust (GRG) issued a media release pointing out that National's welfare reforms were having a detrimental effect on grandparents raising their grandchildren. Grandparents end up with the grandchildren for a number of reasons but mostly because of family breakdown and drug and alcohol dependence of the parent(s). Trust me: it's extremely stressful because grandparents often find themselves having to deal with the problems of two generations, they're not as fit as they might once have been, and many have limited incomes. But as those of you who are grandparents will know, they'll do anything for their grandkids and you would think that a bit of support from the state agencies supposed to help them would go a long way.

The big problem at the moment is that the main state agency supposed to help is the ever-more unhelpful Work and Income. I have no idea what's going on there but my guess is that staff are under huge pressure to get people off welfare, not put them on welfare, or send them to pointless CV writing courses. Because this is the ideal way to help achieve the government's stated aim of looking after vulnerable children, right?

Unusually, the Minister must have felt she needed to front foot GRG's claims, presumably because having Work and Income staff treating grandparents in a bullying and condescending manner is only slightly better than torturing puppies. GRG asked for a blanket exemption from the work test requirements of the legislation and possibly the Minister also felt she needed to head that off at the pass. So in an interview on Nine to Noon on the 25th July the Minister explained why a blanket exemption was out of the question before assuring listeners that This Would Never Happen Again:
 "There is definitely discretion there and that's why I put it in to be blunt so we did talk about grandparents raising grandchildren and people who were raising other people's children a lot while we were developing the welfare reforms...The example I saw in the paper today [...] was not an intended consequence of the welfare reforms.  There are some [grandparents] that are a lot younger and they do want to be working and they do want support from Work and Income to get into work...No [grandparents raising grandchildren will not be getting letters requiring them to be going through this process and will not be in the same situation as other job seekers who must be available for work]. This is by no means intended to be the camel that breaks the back... [oops - it's OK, we know what you mean]...If they have got high-needs kids that need them there in the morning and in the afternoon and working is just not an option then they are not going to be forced into looking for jobs..."
Given this unequivocal assurance, imagine our surprise when we found the following in the GRG September  newsletter:
16 years ago, they both came into our care, traumatised, frightened and had no routine, I was working full time then, but quickly realised I had to give up my job to look after these 2 innocent little ones aged 4 & 6. As time went on with 9 repeated frivolous court cases and many, many thousand $$’s saw any savings we had disappear. Fortunately, my husband was still working. We managed just. Life slipped by...Recently due to circumstances we applied for an unemployment benefit (now called Job Seeker)...We have been told we have to attend job training and if we do not our Unemployment (now Job Seeker) will be stopped. So we have to drag our old wreaked, weak, ill bodies down to training for 6 months daily. For goodness sakes who in their right mind would employ us! We have sacrificed everything for these children who otherwise would have been in State Care and ended up goodness knows where. What has NZ come to? Forcing 60+ into the work force!
So Paula, does that mean your department hasn't got its language quite right yet? Or does it mean WINZ staff are still being pressured to act like mindless boxtickers? Possibly the same boxtickers who think tampons are a luxury? Because once again we see an appalling stuff-up from your department, on your watch, after you have given assurances that WINZ has discretion to be lenient in exceptional circumstances and will use it appropriately. Get it right and start treating people with dignity or resign.

And to the tireless Di Vivian from GRG: You're doing a great job. Keep it up.