Dear John Key (and Prince of Middle New Zealand: Mike Hoskings)
I know you will never read this. I know you don’t care. But, a woman gotta vent somewhere. Good people. If you hear me, share.
This week, you suggested that anyone with a housing issue – living in a car, in a garage, in a small, cold, damp house with your entire extended family, or under a bridge – should go to Work and Income for help. Hardy-har-har. Nice idea. Totally a waste of time though. Literally.
I don’t know what the official numbers are, but there are a heck of a lot of people living in substandard situations. A single mother of three children, including and 8month old, and a couple with their young son who’s wheelchair should demand an appropriate house for his family – living in motels for $1330 a week. Money that they have to pay back to WINZ. The money is there, Key’s National government cannot tell us otherwise. It is about priorities.
Now, I could write a really eloquent piece of writing on this issue, but lots of other people already have. Read more here for instance. And, I’m not feeling all that patient or eloquent right now. I’m pissed off. So I’m going to write something from the street, so to speak.
Anyone who has ever had to deal with WINZ, will tell you that going there, is kind of hellish. They are unfriendly. They make you feel really small, vulnerable and more ashamed of your situation than when you first stepped in the door.
And we shouldn’t feel ashamed. We all pay our taxes after all, so that in our time/s of need, we can turn to WINZ and find relief.
But the problem is, WINZ doesn’t meet your needs most of the time, or tell you what you are entitled too. You can’t make an appointment in the very office you want an appointment at. You can’t book an appointment on the phone for more than two weeks out (after your local office tells you to go home and to do so). Even though there are most definitely going to be more than two weeks of time in the future of universal existence. And every time you deal with them, you need to prove your existence all over again. Because they seem to completely lose every single thread of information you have ever provided them with….your first born’s lock of baby hair included. It is SO painful. You wouldn’t know. You are a rich mo’fo.
It is hardly worth the pain for the gain most of the time. I have cried in their faces before out of sheer exhaustion at dealing with their bureaucracy, all over a few pingers for childcare assistance. To which we were entirely entitled too. Or more to the point. OUR CHILD was entitled to.
So, this morning when I ‘popped’ into Work and Income for another Childcare subsidy form (for the baby-child) – I was feeling anxious. This form pays for roughly 50% of childcare costs for under 3s and enrolls over 3s in the 20 hours free childcare programme. So we gotta do it. Anyone with a kid in childcare has got to do this. Unless you are really rich, then you don’t need to worry about it. But you do have to be quite rich to not worry about it, because childcare cost are high. Most of us are not rich. Most of us parents WILL fill in this damned form at some stage.
I did this three years ago for our eldest. It was a really bad time. We filled in the form THREE times, and took it DIRECTLY INTO OUR LOCAL OFFICE as we were told to do THREE TIMES. Why THREE TIMES?
Because each time, the people at the desk lost it. Paper work in this government department is obviously not a top priority. And there is SO much paper work. Each time it was lost, it took an average of two weeks for WINZ to figure out that this is what had happened. Two weeks of us calling them to see what was going on. Two weeks of feeling embarrassed that the incorrect fee amount was being paid (not paid) to our kid’s childcare centre. Two weeks of really painful conversations with equally confused main office phone worker WINZ people. Another form filled in……Two more weeks of waiting, two more weeks of…..you get the idea.
And, each time, 1, 2 and 3 – we had to take the SAME form back to the childcare centre to be re-filled. This is not what the head teacher at the centre wanted to be doing with their time. This is not what WE wanted to be doing with our time.
All in all, it took 4 months for the ordeal to end. 4 months for the childcare centre to receive the correct fees for the amazing work they do.
Really boring blog so far right. This whole situation was boring for us.
How could such a fundamental and crucial government department handle such a routine, standard, everyday, bureaucratic process so very badly you ask?
When I arrived at my local office this morning at 10:30am this is what I saw with my eyes:
(note, the amount of blue carpet in this image represents two things, 1. my stealthy photo taking skills, 2. the deepest darkness in the hearts of all who have stood on this carpet)
- 3 security guards milling about (they were friendly, I’m not being sarcastic)
- 1 person at the front desk, 4 computers at the front desk
- 1 woman at the front desk being served
- 1 woman in line in front of me
- another woman sitting in the waiting area (for a long fought for appointment I assume)
- There were roughly 20 desks in the WINZ office (hard to count exactly without going past the duct taped line on the floor which means ‘if you pass this you will be tackled by 3 security staff)
- 3 desks occupied by customer services people/agents, whatever they are called these day
- 1 person being served at a desk by staff. ONE
- Then I realised the 1 person being served was actually the 4th security guard having a chat.
10:30am in the morning is a really busy time in most work places. So much busy, WINZ.
More things to note: It is nearly impossible to get a real face to face appointment, in order to speed up the process, and make sure that your form won’t get lost. I can see now, why it is so hard to get an appointment. No one is working there. Take the blimmin desks away! It wouldn’t look so terrible that way.
Even with the above stats, ie one person in the queue in front of me, it still took 25 minute to be served – I should have downloaded the form and printed it at the local internet cafe.
But wait for it, when I got to the ‘service’ desk I was greeted with ‘What’. Not ‘Hello’ not ‘Kia ora’ or even ‘Yes?’, but ‘what?’.’WHAT’. It is possible I didn’t hear the rest of what she said because she wasn’t really looking at me. But really?!
The lack of efficiency is staggering. It is almost as if they are trained to be slow, disengaged and impossible to navigate. Online, on the phone and in person.
Apologies to the workers, it must be a stink place to work. I don’t mean any bad vibes to you.
This is my experience with WINZ. And I am someone with lots of resources. I have a great job, my partner works full time. We have healthy children. A house, car, and food in the cupboards all the time. I have a computer and internet connection so I can skype WINZ rather than wait on a landline forever to inquire about my lost application forms. I also have a reasonable amount of knowledge of my rights and obligations to WINZ etc, and enough energy to pursue them to get things like a few bucks a week for childcare assistance.
So if this blog is to achieve anything at all, it is for me to let off some steam, and to illustrate just how incompetent this government department is at dealing with anything, anything at all, let alone someone in desperate need of a housing solution.
Our taxes pay for this. We should be ashamed. And causing a fuss.
John – your family did so well with the support of New Zealand’s welfare system. You have a really important job now, and lots of food in your cupboards. You are in your third term as our (shudder) Prime Minister – and look at the welfare system now. It’s unlikely you’d be where you are now, if it were like this in your day.
Stop cutting funding to our social services! People will always need help. It is our money, and we know our rights.
To conclude this is what I have to say to you (and Prince of Middle New Zealand: Mike Hoskings)…..
What?! (indignation in my voice)
What?! (increasing sass)
What?! (‘bring it on’ tone)