Group of the country’s main frontline beneficiaries and children’s rights organizations call for a select committee investigation into what they call the ‘humiliating and inhuman’ processes and culture within the branch Department of Social Development, Work and Income New Zealand.
The group says systemic under-delivery of services, inconsistent rules, insufficient staff training and a culture that punishes and belittles those in desperate need leaves people struggling to access timely and appropriate assistance. The group wrote to the chair of the special committee on social and community services, Angie Warren-Clark, to request an urgent investigation by the special committee.
“As a society that values compassion and justice, we have a collective responsibility to reduce poverty by ensuring that our social protection system provides just, decent and timely support to those in need,” said the letter.
“Anyone who needs MSD’s support should be able to expect to be treated with dignity and upheld their rights in all interactions they have. “
One example included a young man who was told he was not entitled to emergency housing or a benefit, but did not know why. The man, who had been living on the streets for three weeks before coming to the office to ask for help, was sent back to the street without any information, where he remained for several months. He is now working to help others access help.
One of 13 organizations to sign the letter, the Citizens Advice Bureau, says its branches see around 6,000 New Zealanders each year seeking help navigating the inconsistent rules and advice of Work and Income, with nearly 30% of the work involving intervention on a client’s behalf.
“We see a lot of people struggling to understand what help is available and the staff at WINZ are not always proactive in helping people access the support they should be getting,” said Andrew Hubbard, Interim Managing Director by CAB.
“It would be tragic in normal times, but with the added stress of Covid lockdowns and job losses, this is a failure we cannot allow to continue.”
Save the Children New Zealand Director of Advocacy and Research Jacqui Southey said that although some changes have been made under the minister’s leadership since 2018, the system remains fraught with confusion, stress and negative interactions. .
“In addition to the urgent need to increase the resources available to families and whānau to livable levels, it is essential that the way in which resources are provided is in a fair and timely manner, respecting the dignity and mana from anyone looking for help. Almost three of the years after the 2019 Expert Advisory Group on Wellbeing recommendations to restore social security dignity to Aotearoa, some whānau still face the same issues and obstacles when trying to access help.
The group hopes that through a review by a select committee, a suitable social protection system could be put in place to meet the needs of all New Zealanders, a system that would be responsive in times of crisis, like Covid.
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