Day Two: Auckland Benefit Impact
Lisa Beech reports on Day Two of a three-day ‘Benefit Impact’ organised by Auckland Action Against Poverty in New Lynn, West Auckland. A team of benefit advocates is helping beneficiaries check entitlements and work through issues around their benefits.
The young woman has come over from her computer course and waited patiently for over an hour. She heard that people at the Benefit Impact are having applications for washing machines approved. With two small children and a baby arriving in November, she wonders if she might be eligible, so she won’t need to take her washing to her parents’ place.
The Work and Income case manager we go to see is amazing. I want to video her, and show it to other Work and Income staff, to say: ‘this is how it could be’. Benefit applications don’t have to be a battleground if staff members themselves listen intelligently and look at whether people are getting all the help they are supposed to.
Mary Betz of the Auckland Catholic Justice and Peace Commission is with me today, taking her first steps in benefit advocacy. We witness a perfect interaction. We don’t even have to mention Temporary Additional Support or reducing advance offsets – this case manager is ahead of us every step of the way.
The young woman leaves smiling. However she’s on her way to a work preparation interview at her regular Work and Income office, despite being on a full time training course with a child due in less than two months. Anxiety building, she is steeling herself to ask her case manager not to call at 7.00am when she is rushing about getting children ready for school and childcare before going to her own training course. It is a sharp reminder that we have just seen Work and Income at its best, but life is continuing as usual in other offices around the country.
Demands or needs
At first glance it might look as if the mother who arrives at the Benefit Impact with quotes for furniture and clothing has a large pile of demands. It takes a shift in thinking to realise that she has come with a large list of needs. She isn’t asking for extra money, but for an advance payment of her benefit to enable her to buy basic items that most New Zealanders take for granted.
The mother of ten quietly speaks about her life. Four children currently share a double bed and she thinks it’s time an older son had his own bed. The family doesn’t have any lounge room furniture – they sit on mattresses on the floor.
Twice a year she says Housing New Zealand sends exterminators to deal with rats, but that hasn’t stopped the latest infestation getting into the large plastic bags where they keep their clothing. They get most of their clothing second-hand, but she wants to buy the children new underwear.
As we go into the Work and Income office, the mother becomes anxious and short of breath. ‘I don’t want to be greedy,’ she says. We lay all the needs on the desk of the young case manager, who usually deals with superannuitants rather than children’s underwear. He takes some time to adjust from seeing the quotes as needs not demands. He agrees to ask his supervisor to look at the requests for assistance with clothing, a bunk bed and a secondhand lounge.
Mary asks quietly if it makes sense to buy new clothing that will only go into the same bags that have already been unable to protect the old clothing from rats. There is an audible pause before the case manager agrees to consider the quote for a second-hand chest of drawers. We are obviously pushing him outside his experience and comfort zone. It takes a while, but the advances are approved. The mother will pay Work and Income back for the clothing and furniture over the next two years.