So for 18 years, people who have been on stand-down periods from benefits – i.e. forced to stretch whatever savings or credit or charity they can access just in case they’re not really in desperate need of paying the rent or buying food for their kids – have been consistently underpaid.
Radio New Zealand reported Work and Income had underpaid some beneficiaries by a day since 1998, as it had paid people from the day after their “stand-down” period ended.
When people applied for a benefit, they often had to wait two weeks for it to start.
Work and Income was meant to pay a beneficiary from the day after the two week period ended, but instead had been starting payments the following day, RNZ reported.
And the government’s response to this persistent underpaying of poor and vulnerable people, who are already expected to live on less than it actually costs to live?
The Government was now trying to retrospectively change the law dating back to 1998, when the provisions took effect.
Of course they are. As many people have said in response to this article, if WINZ found out you’d been over-claiming for a day’s benefit since 1998, you’d be in jail, castigated as the worst kind of bludging, greedy parasite.
When WINZ has been stiffing beneficiaries for an extra day’s benefit for nearly 20 years? Oops, better make that all go away really quickly, we certainly don’t want people to think they’re entitled for restitution after being simply, wilfully, defrauded by the government.
(Unless they’re Saudi millionaires who totally reckon they were promised cushy trade deals.)
In fact, they’re going to “fix” the law not by making WINZ obey the damn law, but by changing it so everyone has to wait one day more before they can get the government assistance they desperately need.
This matters. We might be tempted to say “oh it was ages ago for some people and it’s not much money per person”. But benefits in this country are already at unsurvivable levels. The New Zealand Council of Christian Services says:
Real net benefit rates compared to the real net average wage have declined steadily and significantly over the past 30 years and are at levels that leave people in poverty. The Working for Families package has helped wage earners but this has further increased the income disparity between the waged and unwaged.
Benefit levels do not allow families to feed, clothe and house themselves adequately. For example, the PIP Update Report found that the disposable income of food bank clients (most of whom are reliant on benefits) is barely sufficient to cover the estimated food costs required to feed a family of two adults and two children.This leaves little or nothing for other household costs.
And that PIP Update Report was completed in 2007. We’ve had a bit of a global financial crisis since then. You reckon things have gotten any easier?
This government, and Anne Tolley in particular, have declared “success” for their punitive welfare reforms because the numbers of people on a benefit are going down. And that’s often what makes the headlines: benefit numbers down! Economy obviously hunky-dory! But when you dig beneath the numbers it’s clear this government hasn’t achieved anything meaningful. Thousands of people are being lost in the system because they haven’t managed to complete the (obscene amount of) paperwork to renew their benefit. Others may be checking out because the system is so – deliberately – difficult to navigate.
This is just wrong. It’s inhumane. It’s cruel and unnecessary. That’s why we have to talk seriously about the role of the state in supporting every person who cannot be in paid work, for whatever reason. We have to challenge the rightwing idea that paid work is the only valuable contribution a person makes to their community and society. We have to get real about new ideas like a universal basic income. We have to stop, absolutely stop, walking into the trap of blaming beneficiaries for broader economic circumstances or pussy-footing around about whether the poor are “deserving” or not.
We have to do better than this.