Last week I blogged about how my friend was told by her WINZ case-worker she couldn’t buy tampons with her hardship grant. What followed was a social media sandstorm, due in part to the twitter hashtag # unnecessary tampons. The post received 32,977 views, and over 90 comments. Public interest was further fueled by Paula Bennett tweeting to clarify that there was no ban on women’s sanitary items, and responding to journalists that you can’t believe everything you read on social media. That’s very true Paula, you have to be discerning.
The emerging picture seemed to indicate that case managers may not always correctly advise beneficiaries, who are left in fairly vulnerable positions. Several comments and facebook messages alerted me to similar experiences of beneficiaries being treated with disrespect or disdain. This ill-treatment occurs alongside continuously not being given enough assistance and struggling for basic necessities. As Jan Logie’s blogpost pointed out, misinformation from WINZ staff about policy occurs in a context of punitive policy changes and an organisational culture that is stigmatising.
Auckland Action Against Poverty is a direct action and education organisation that
both advocates for beneficiaries and protests against the neoliberal agenda on jobs, welfare and poverty.
Sarah Thompson, a spokesperson from Auckland Action Against Poverty, explained that
they are seeing an ever emerging gatekeeper culture in Work and Income, where people
are often told “no” as a first response from W&I staff. “At least 9 out of the 10 people that
our advocates work with have been incorrectly or unfairly denied assistance – from being misinformed, as in your friends case, about using a special needs grant for tampons to being denied a benefit altogether when W&I incorrectly assume someone is living in the nature of marriage, to not applying discretion in the case where a mother needs additional assistance for food”. These conditions make it near impossible for people to receive the assistance they are entitled to.
The most damning indictment on the relationship between sanitary items and unacceptable level of poverty in New Zealand for me last week was from the Child Poverty Action Group who facebooked that child well-being organisation KidsCan are supplying pads to intermediate and high school girls as they or their families can’t afford them. CPAG quoted Jules from KidsCan:
“We have many sad stories of girls getting bladder infections as they are reusing soiled sanitary items or toilet paper. This is a major issue in some of our schools which most people be would not be aware of. We recently had 1000 packs of pads donated to us for this purpose.”
Paula Bennett tweeting about tampons was a curious event. If you are media savvy you
know that politics often about send the right message to the right audience. It’s obviously a tricky one for Paula, because on one hand she wants to appeal to voters. Paula is walking a fine line though. As the Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett has a more direct obligation to beneficiaries to ensure that New Zealand’s welfare system has integrity.
So Paula Bennett, a week on from tampongate, here are the questions I really have to ask:
- What were the communications costs (branding, design and publications) associated with essentially “rebranding” seven benefit categories as three categories? Are the changes primarily cosmetic? Are the changes meant to assist beneficiaries or assuage voters?
- What are you doing to actively prevent misinformation and bullying that could occur in WINZ offices as an effect of the “gatekeeping” organisational culture?
- How does the basic benefit rate relate to average food and housing costs? How are beneficiaries expected to meet the shortfall between the benefit rate and their weekly costs?
- With this in mind, what do you think is an acceptable level of hardship? What every day items should beneficiaries be prepared to go without?
Auckland Action Against Poverty are going to be holding an impact action outside Work and Income in New Lynn from the 10th – 12th September, from 9am to 4.30pm each day. Beneficiaries are able to meet with advocates to assist them in getting their full entitlements. For more information, see www.aaap.org.nz or email firstname.lastname@example.org