Friday, December 09, 2016

WINZ kills

One of the long-term trends in New Zealand welfare policy, amplified under National, has for WINZ to become ever crueller and more vicious. Unsurprisingly, its driving people to suicide:

Monthly quotas were imposed at the Ministry of Social Development to prosecute beneficiaries, an inquest into the death of a woman accused of benefit fraud has heard.

"We had to get one prosecution per month. We had to get $30,000 of debt to be recovered per month," a former MSD investigator told the inquest into the death of Wendy Shoebridge. "Four cases had to be cleared per month."

Shoebridge, a 41-year-old mother, was found dead in Lower Hutt on April 3, 2011.

The day before, she opened a letter saying she was to be referred for prosecution over an alleged $22,000 benefit fraud. After her death, that amount fell to about $5500.

There's more unpleasant details in the report. The victim was suffering from severe depression. The investigator didn't want to prosecute. But they were over-ruled by management, who had quotas to meet. Records appear to have been "manipulated". But the blunt fact is that WINZ targetted a mentally vulnerable woman and drove her to kill herself. And their managers probably regarded that as a win, a beneficiary off the books, one person closer to meeting Ministerial targets to reduce benefit numbers.

People with long memories may remember that IRD was doing this in the 90's. But after a high-profile suicide, Parliament launched a select committee inquiry, and IRD's processes were supposedly reformed ("supposedly" because the deaths haven't stopped). Its looking like WINZ's policies and culture of bullying are going to need a similar excavation. But with both National and Labour united in hating beneficiaries, which party will stand up for them and demand that our welfare system stops killing people?

(Thanks to @buzzandhum for the idea for this post)