Friday 18 October 2013

"Low Trust Clients" Meet "No Sympathy State"

The Implacable Face Of An Implacable Regime: Victor Hugo's unforgettable bloodhound, Inspector Javert (played here by Russell Crowe) pursued the redeemed hero, Jean Valjean, with a zeal bordering on fanaticism. The so-called "low trust clients" of WINZ who, like Valjean, may have broken the law simply in order to survive, must now feel as though they are living in the pages of Les Miserables.

EARLIER THIS WEEK the Associate Minister for Social Development, Chester Borrows, announced a new category of beneficiary. From Monday, 14 October 2013, he said, Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) would be applying the new “low trust client” rules.
According to the Minister, “low trust clients” are people already convicted of welfare fraud, or who have “had overpayments established following a fraud investigation”.
He expected the new rules would affect around 1,500 people per year.
“Give a dog a bad name and you may hang him by it” runs the proverb. And it is certainly very difficult to think of a reason why politicians and bureaucrats would want to pin the “low trust client” tag on beneficiaries other than their wanting to “hang” them by it.
Of course the State doesn’t hang people anymore – at least, not literally. (Although I’m sure there are more than a few New Zealanders who would gladly string up all these “welfare cheats”!) But those who have made it their business to make sense of MSD policy (Sue Bradford, for example) are in no doubt that the true objective of these highly provocative new rules is to make “low trust clients” feel so utterly wretched and worthless that they exit the welfare system altogether.
From the point of view of the MSD and WINZ, purging the welfare rolls of low trust clients is a “win/win” solution. Not only is the state spared the expense of paying out legitimate entitlements, but the MSD’s new policy practically guarantees a sharp decline in all claims – fraudulent and legitimate.
Few New Zealanders would have any idea of how fraught the entire experience of signing-on for, receiving and retaining a social welfare benefit can be. The whole process is anything but straightforward and to a great many people seems calculated to belittle, stress and all-too-frequently humiliate the applicant/recipient.
The most vivid memory most people take away from their first visit to WINZ is how long they were made to wait. Even those who followed the rules assiduously: made appointments and arrived ahead of time; will regale their family and friends with horror stories of being made to wait for hours at a time.
Many people who live at some distance from their nearest WINZ office and are reliant on public transport simply cannot wait, and so miss their appointments. Predictably, missing an appointment with one’s WINZ case-worker is regarded as a serious misdemeanour: do it too often and one’s benefit may be docked – or even stopped.
Only rarely will these citizens encounter a WINZ staffer who clearly and comprehensively spells out exactly what they are entitled by law to receive from the state. The consensus view among those receiving WINZ “assistance” is that the MSD operates on the rule-of-thumb that if applicants don’t ask, then WINZ staff are not obliged to tell.
At the average WINZ office what you don’t know (and are not told) can prove extremely costly – both to you and to those who depend on you.
Even the much-decried “benefit fraud” isn’t always what it seems.
WINZ’s over-riding priority is to get people off welfare and into work. Unfortunately, it does not distinguish part-time and/or casual work from full-time employment. At WINZ, a job’s a job, and the moment you get one you’re no longer entitled to a Jobseeker’s Allowance. And if your job only lasts a month? Well, that’s too bad, because now there’s a “stand down” period lasting several weeks for you to get through before once again becoming eligible for state assistance.
In the meantime there’s rent, food and power bills to be paid. What WINZ calls fraud is often no more than the actions of desperate people doing whatever they have to do to keep themselves and their families fed and clothed and a roof over their head.
It’s what makes the note of smug self-righteousness in Mr Borrows’ latest announcement so very hard to take.
Like Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, New Zealand’s beneficiaries find themselves pursued by a state as remorseless and relentless as the implacable Inspector Javert.
The great French novelist coined phrases like “social asphyxia” do describe the constricting effects of poverty and injustice, but even the mighty Hugo would have tipped his hat to a phrase so utterly suffocating in its unkindness as “low trust client”.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 October 2013.


CarbonGuilty said...

And you want the cold grasping hand of the State to be more involved in our lives?

Brendon said...

Does the Tax department have a low trust category for tax cheats?

My bet is tax cheats are a bigger group than welfare cheats.

Davo Stevens said...

The arrogance of this Gnat Govt. is breathtaking!

I watched Simon Bridges and John Campbell a few days ago and John should have taken that arrogant prick to the cleaners. Burrows is the same -- born to rule!

The Gnats have caused more un-employment in the last few years and yet penalise them for being so.

We must get rid of them before they destroy everything NZ stands for but who are we going to replace them with?

Fern said...

There's one good thing about having to wait in a WINZ office: it's lovely and warm, unlike your home that you can't afford to heat.

Brendan McNeill said...

"Few New Zealanders would have any idea of how fraught the entire experience of signing-on for, receiving and retaining a social welfare benefit can be."

Well, no, actually 12% of working age New Zealanders are presently on welfare. That's more than 'a few' in any mans language.

If there are 1500 recipients of taxpayer largesse every year who have abused their neighbours 'generosity' (not that their neighbours had any choice in the matter) and are now feeling some pressure to live responsibly, then I'd have thought that would have been welcomed by all New Zealanders.

Apparently that's not the case?

Anonymous said...

"Low Trust Client" therefore sounds like a bit like "Lower Untermensch", does it not?

Lest we forget, what these damned welfare "reforms" are all about:

If only more people would bother reading this stuff, we would get somewhere, and expose this hideous "welfare fascism" that is going on, albeit in "moderate" form, as "Arbeit macht Frei" according to the Nazis is not quite what this is like. It is like the draconian, punitive UK style reforms, and that killed many already also, not in gas camps, but in hospitals, in homes and workplaces.

Anonymous said...


today, I went to the Avondale WINZ Office, in West Auckland, and between about 10:20 am and 11:30 am I stood there with a sign warning clients of "hatchet doctors", as there are some they use.

I also handed out a few flyers to inform of the new harsh regime that is being applied to sick and disabled.

Only after about 10 to 15 minutes a security officer of theirs came out, stood in front of me on the footpath and stared at me. I asked, whether he was not supposed to work inside. He evaded the question.

Soon after he turned up again, to ask for one of those flyers, so I gave him one, as all info on there is absolutely true and reliable. He went back inside, and I am sure he showed the manager.

Then soon after he came back again, to stand in front of me and note down the words on the protest sign I held in front of myself. I asked him a few things, but he went on about being from Tonga, never having been on a benefit and wanting some of the info for himself. I thought what a BS!

Once I raised to a passerby who was interested in taking a flyer, that I am feeling harassed, he disappeared, and his manager appeared to call him back in anyway.

That is WINZ and welfare in NZ in 2013. It is a fascist system already, where they harass you standing in a public place on a footpath, exercising your democratic right. Next come the security guards, vigilantes or whatever, that will pull you into a corner and give you a hiding!

This is all trues stuff, and I am talking about own experiences on Friday, 18 Oct. 2013 here, all recorded!

An affected seriously sick person who was tried to be kicked off the benefit before, by using one of their hatchet doctors!

Anonymous said...

As usual Brendan you avoid the question of those who don't pay their taxes :-). They cost far more than 'benefit cheats'.

Davo Stevens said...

@Brendan; 1500 equates to a bit under 1%, hardly an overwhelming number!

Tait Electronics just closed their factory here and shifted their production to China with the loss of 144 jobs. How many of those have finished up on a benefit? I don't know but I'm sure that they all didn't find another job, short or long term. Are they not entitled to some support until they do manage to find another without all the bloody hassles they they must now go through?

There is a mindset amongst Conservatives that those ratbags should be forced to beg to survive as it is supposed to make them "Stronger". It doesn't! Begging reduces self-esteem not increases it.

In my adult life I have never had to wonder where the next meal for my family would come from but should I have found myself in that position, I would steal too. I would never allow my family to starve!

This whole issue is because of the Govt.'s economic policies, they could and should do more to encourage full employment but that is an anathema to a Conservative mindset. They must keep wages down and profits up!

Anonymous said...

Same old same old Nat!s, farm fence benefit bashers, as they and their mates get handed billions of tax payers largesse, by way of tax rots and Government handouts.

This new regime of change, is nothing short of vicious punishment by way of victimization of not only the fraudsters, but also those who would dare claim state assistance.

The only employment that this regime has created for those receiving state support, is in the course providers, that the state demands that those receiving state assistance, have to attend and so competitive that the course providers text their clients asking if they know of anyone on a benefit that they can contact to join their course.

So what do we have,employment for the unemployed receiving state assistance no.What we have and will in truth have, is a generation of our youth who!s C.V.!s will be nothing more than a glossy history of how they spent their adolescence attending a myriad of three month courses.

Anonymous said...

I'm struggling to drum up any sympathy for benefit parasites. So they might have to wait a while for an appointment, tough luck.

Tiger Mountain said...

“Low Trust clients” hardly Social Security for New Zealand Citizens as it was once known.

Some type of universal basic income is a way around the punitive benefit bureaucracy and stigma in this high unemployment situation. Even first world Switzerland is looking at this currently.

The tory minimalist regime is happy to build more prisons but not state houses it would seem. The 2014 election is go for broke time to restore union rights or this country will be an irretrievable basket case.

Anonymous said...

They deserve enough to stop them from starving or becoming criminals but no more.

Davo Stevens said...

Oh Dear! Look, the Gnats made no secret about what they wanted to do and were quite up-front about it all. Reform the Schools, reform Welfare and sell off 49% of our assets etc. yet a majority still voted them in. So we only have ourselves to blame. They got in under a "Landslide" election in MMP terms.

Can't grizzle after they got in folks!

Next time choose your vote carefully! Sometimes we must vote for some-one we don't like very much to keep some-one much worse out! That's called 'Strategic Voting'.

Chris Trotter said...

Actually, Davo, they didn't. 47.3 percent is a very creditable result - especially under MMP - but it is not a majority.

Davo Stevens said...

Depends on how one defines "Majority" Chris. Under MMP no single party can get a clear majority usually. The Gnats got the greater percentage of the votes so they got in. With Labour in second place.

It can be confusing with MMP because there are so many parties involved. If one takes all the votes there is no absolute majority for any of them.

Getting back to my previous response, with 47.7% the Gnats could claim a 'Landslide' under MMP. Either way they made no secret of what they were going to do and yet we still voted them in.

In a democracy we get the Govt. we deserve.

ShazzaTX said...

Welfare recipients can be broken into three groups. Those that are in genuine need, a significant majority. Those that maybe push the system some - they could work, but haven't gotten round to landing and holding a job, or aren't qualified to hold a job that pays a living wage. And third, those that maliciously set out to defraud WINZ. I'm under the impression that this initiative relates to the third group alone.

You seem to say that this initiative will make it more difficult for all WINZ clients. Can you kindly clarify? ("guarantees a sharp decline in all claims")

Would you propose an alternative policy or not address the issue of welfare fraud?

(Not that I'm some huge fan of the initiative, I'm just looking for a more reasoned discussion about it. Ultimately, when it comes to 90% of new govt. policies, I can't help but think of the countless other initiatives that would be more beneficial to NZers,- and that most govt. policies, like the above, are simply solely politically motivated.)

Chris Trotter said...

What I mean, Shazza, is that the aggressive pursuit of those who "defraud" the system is likely to have a chilling effect on all those other beneficiaries who might otherwise have felt inclined to claim their full entitlement.

As anyone who has any experience of our welfare system will tell you, it is ridiculously easy to fall foul of WINZ's rules and regulations. Combine this hazard with the attitude of WINZ staff - that all their "clients" are potential fraudsters just waiting for their chance to rip off the long-suffering taxpayer - and the sharp increase in the number of people "going off the benefit" is explained.

The thinking is exactly the same as that which informed the New Poor Law (1834). Make going into the Workhouse such a frightening and dispiriting experience that those who have done it once will risk just about anything to avoid doing it again.

ShazzaTX said...

I see your point.

It seems it is tricky to balance being accommodating to those in genuine need, and disincentivizing/preventing fraud. I wonder if it would be possible to work out cost of fraud to NZ, vs cost of those that would have otherwise been on the benefit etc etc

Incidentally, I was on the disability for about five years, and I didn't have any problems with WINZ's customer service.