Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back to their old tricks

When National was last in power back in the 90's, WINZ was directed first and foremost to save money. They did it by not telling "clients" (as they call them) about their entitlements - a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" which saw thousands of people slip further into poverty so WINZ executives like Christine Rankin could get their bonuses. Labour put a stop to that after they sacked Rankin - but now National is back, and so WINZ is back to their old tricks again:

The Citizens Advice Bureau says Work And Income (WINZ) is referring clients to its food banks instead of giving them special needs grants, which they are entitled to under the Government's scheme but are not being told about.

"No one should be left in a situation where they have no food to feed their family," says Kerry Dalton. "That's absolutely unacceptable, it shouldn't happen."

But it is happening, and Citizens Advice says WINZ is not telling people they may qualify for special needs grants of up to $550. Instead, they are sending them home hungry.

This is simply monstrous. The purpose of WINZ is to see that people get all the assistance they are legally entitled to, no more, no less. If they're not giving people that money, they're not doing their job properly - it is that simple. Sending people to beg for overstretched private charity when they are entitled to state assistance is not just humiliating - it is a conscious effort to thwart Parliament's clear intent. And it is illegal. The High Court found back in 2002 that WINZ staff have a legal duty to advise people of their entitlements.

When a department goes rogue and ignores the law and the courts, you'd expect the Minister to put a stop to it. Instead, Paula Bennett is trying to cover for them and deny that there is a problem. Which speaks volumes about how much she and the rest of the government really care about those forced to rely on WINZ.