Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Making the numbers look good

Last month, the government was trumpeting its success in tackling youth unemployment by highlighting the fact that there were no 18 and 19 year olds on the dole in Rotorua. But it turns out that this wasn't because they all had jobs or were in training. Rather, it was because local WINZ staff were refusing to let them apply. It's not clear how high up this came from - whether it is a local manager trying to make their stats look good, or whether there is a national directive to impede applications by young people - but either way it is unlawful. Quite apart from the fact that s89 of the Social Security Act 1964 makes it clear that those over 18 (or over 16, partnered and with children) are eligible, it violates the prohibition on discrimination on the basis of age in the Human Rights Act, and thereby (since this is the government) s19 of the Bill of Rights Act. And it looks like those affected are going to be suing over it.

Meanwhile, this is symptomatic of a sick culture within WINZ. Pressure to cut benefit numbers and an us-vs-them mentality mean that too often, WINZ sees its job as refusing applications. Instead, they ought to see their job as ensuring that every eligible person who applies receives exactly what they are entitled to. And if WINZ staff are not capable of doing that, we should replace them with people who are.