Winz: Are They Helping You?
Posted 10 March 2004 - 02:25 PM
Date : 02.02.2000
2 /2 /2000
The Minister of Social Services and Employment, Steve Maharey, announced today that an external WINZ Advisory Board was being disestablished as he moved to effect a culture change within the department.
Mr. Maharey said he had instructed WINZ Chief Executive, Christine Rankin, to disestablish her Advisory Board to the Chief Executive, because he wished to avoid any potential conflict over the strategic direction he had set for the department. The terms of reference for the former board specifically charged it with being a sounding board for Mrs Rankin to use when determining the future direction of WINZ.
“Mrs Rankin and I have discussed my expectations for WINZ regularly since the election. My associate ministers, Ruth Dyson and Parekura Horomia, and I, have adopted a firm hands-on approach to our oversight of WINZ. We are determined to provide clear direction on the sort of culture we wish to build within the WINZ and we do not see a role for this board any longer.
“Our objective is to achieve a culture change within WINZ that reflects the roles and responsibilities of a core public sector department. An advisory board made up of private sector representatives charged with influencing strategic direction could be in conflict with this objective.
“I am advised that the seven-member board has met six times since it was established on 26 May 1999. The board’s costs to date total $23,679”, Steve Maharey said.
Posted 10 March 2004 - 03:03 PM
A Hutt Valley beneficiary has had nine years worth of a special benefit, the tenure protection allowance, paid out to her because Work and Income New Zealand staff had not told her she was entitled to it.
The High Court in Wellington threw out an appeal by WINZ that people should have to apply for the specific benefit they want in order to get it.
The appeal was based on a case taken by Valerie Scoble, who complained that when she applied for accomodation assistance in 1992, she was not told that she was eligible for another particular benefit as well.
Scoble says the department rejected her complaint, then rejected an appeal but her case was upheld by the Social Security Appeal Authority.
WINZ appealed against the authority's decision in the High Court, which ruled that Scoble should have been told of all her entitlements when she applied at that time.
Scoble describes the decision as very significant, with the onus now on WINZ staff to advise people what they are entitled to.
Posted 10 March 2004 - 03:08 PM
The High Court has overturned a beneficiary's conviction for disorderly behaviour and has taken Work and Income to task for its treatment of him.
The beneficiary caused a scene at the Thames Work and Income office when staff refused 11 times to give him a special needs grant application form.
Justice Baragwanath found at the time Michael David Stemson was eligible for the benefit, and it was in fact three weeks overdue.
Michael Stemson was later convicted of disorderly behaviour because of his forceful and aggressive protest at the department's actions.
Justice Baragwanath said it is understandable departmental staff and others present were disturbed by Stemson's angry words and gestures.
But he said all were let down by a failure in Work and Income's systems which he hopes will not reoccur.
The judge said in the circumstances, Stemson's unnecessarily rude and offensive conduct fell short of the level required by criminal law to amount to an offence.
The Ministry of Social Development says the incident was regrettable but that it is unacceptable for staff and other clients to endure intimidating behavior.
It says any High Court decisions with implications for service delivery are brought to staff's attention, and the judge's comments discussed with them.
The Downtown Community Ministry in Wellington says it is still hearing of people being denied application forms at Work and Income.
Its recent survey on problems with the special benefit prompted a commitment from the Ministry of Social Development that it would dispense the benefit fairly and in line with the law.
The Downtown Ministry's Richard Noble says this High Court decision is just commonsense and highlights ongoing problems, even though the incident is more than a year old.
Posted 10 March 2004 - 03:10 PM
The case of the battling beneficiary is a landmark victory that could cost the Department of Work and Income millions.
Valerie Scoble spent years being shortchanged because WINZ never told her about a benefit that she was entitled to.
When an appeal board awarded her seven years worth of backpay, WINZ went to the High Court, but a judge has thrown out its appeal and now the department that can't keep out of controversy is now facing the prospect of a flood of claims.
Valarie Scoble has lived in her Housing New Zealand home in Lower Hutt for nearly ten years, unaware for seven of those years that she was entitled to an additional benefit from WINZ of $45 a week.
"I've struggled on a low income almost all my life," says Valarie.
WINZ had argued it was Valerie's fault she had not received her tenure protection allowance, because she didn't specifically apply for the extra benefit.
But now the Wellington High Court has sided with Valerie, ruling that it is up to WINZ to let beneficiaries know what other benefits they're eligible for.
"There are a lot of problems within the department that need addressing, more than what this case has brought out," Valarie Scoble says. "This is just the tip of an iceberg."
WINZ say it is too early to tell how far reaching the implications are - their lawyers are combing through the judges' decision.
Beneficiaries across the country will now be checking to see if they too have been missing out, meaning WINZ could face an avalanche of back claims, possibly worth millions.
The Minister of Social Services and Employment, Steve Maharey, believes the case highlights WINZ's "historical mismanagement" of the practice of informing beneficiaries of their entitlements
"We are operating a system now which does operate in the interests of fairness," he says.
The opposition condemned WINZ for taking the case to the High Court.
"Clearly Steve Maharey was worried about the precedent that was being set in this case, so he obviously instructed WINZ to appeal this all the way to the high court," claims National spokesman Roger Sowry.
Valarie Scoble has long since spent her lump-sum payout and says the fight was worth every penny.
"Don't be scared to ask for advice if you believe you have not been given a fair hearing," she says.
Scoble's battle with WINZ is not quite over - she believes they underpaid her back-pay, and is contemplating further legal action.
Posted 10 March 2004 - 03:11 PM
Aug 06, 2001
New Zealand's beneficiary advocates are dealing with the fallout from a precedent-setting case, in which the Department of Work and Income was told it had to tell claimants of their entitlements and was forced to pay seven years of back-pay to a woman who was short-changed.
Valarie Scoble lived in her Housing New Zealand home in Lower Hutt for nearly 10 years, unaware for seven of those years that she was entitled to a tenure protection allowance from the department - then WINZ - of $45 a week.
The courts awarded her those seven years-worth of back-pay, and although the department appealed, the Court of Appeals last week found in Valarie Scoble's favour, prompting many to predict a flood of similar cases, potentially worth millions.
Stephen Ruth, of advocacy group Benefit Rights, has been dealing with enquiries from those who also feel shortchanged by the Department of Work and Income.
"It has been very busy today. We've even been taking calls from other advocacy agencies in Auckland who say they're inundated at the moment," he says.
He also expects the department itself may need an increase of funding to deal with the claims.
"Given that the resources they have at the moment are inadequate to deliver all of the benefits that people are entitled to, then they're going to need extra resources, particularly in training frontline staff," says Ruth.
Green MP Sue Bradford fought on behalf of the unemployed for more than 16 years.
"I'd estimate there are constantly at least tens of thousands of beneficiaries not getting everything that they're entitled to," she says.
The department is still working through the finer points of the ruling, which places upon them the burden of informing claimants of all their entitlements.
Their stated current practice is to discuss all of a client's circumstances with them to ensure they are informed of all the benefits and allowances they are entitled to.
But when TVNZ asked some beneficiaries whether they had been adequately informed, not all agreed with the Department of Work and Income.
"It takes a bit of a while to get where you want," says one.
"I think they need to upgrade their standards really," says another. "I'm a single mother with two children and I don't get really what I want."
But Work and Income is confident it can cope.
"We are not expecting any significant increases in applications or that additional resources will be required," the department said in a statement.
But Sue Bradford believes the department will struggle to keep up.
"We have ministerial directives that have said this before and it still hasn't been applied, so at this point it will be critical both that staff are trained properly and that resources are put in to the true implemenation of this decision," she says.
Posted 10 March 2004 - 03:12 PM
Jan 03, 2002
The poorest New Zealanders are missing out on millions of dollars in social welfare payments.
The Downtown Community Ministry of Wellington has released a study showing large differences in the numbers of people who get the special benefit and where they live.
Approximately 10% of those eligible for the special benefit in Auckland and Wellington get it, however it is half that figure in the Bay of Plenty and down to 2.4% in the Nelson region.
People are supposed to be eligible for a special benefit if their essential costs, such as food and accommodation, exceed their income.
However Debbie Mohr of the Auckland People's Centre said Work and Income case officers seem to apply their own rules.
"Sometimes they don't even advise the client it's available, kind of like it's a policy. If they don't ask, they don't tell."
Downtown Community Ministry spokesperson Kevin Hackwell said the average family are missing out on $20 a week and estimates over 100,000 more people should be getting the special benefit .
The Social Development Ministry is setting up a working party to study the claims and is due to present its findings in June.
"The chief executive is committed to ensuring that the administration of the special benefit is consistent across the country and in line with the law," said the Social Development Ministry's Diana Marriot.
Posted 10 March 2004 - 03:19 PM
Social Ministry run like a business
Aug 31 2002
An Auckland barrister who represents beneficiaries is accusing the Ministry of Social Development of trying to run itself as a business rather than a provider of welfare.
Shona Abernethy's comments come in the wake of the government's offer to review some 15,000 cases of beneficiaries who may have been wrongly penalised between 1996 and 2000.
Abernethy, who used to work as a lawyer for the then Department of Work and Income, says staff are actively encouraged to establish debt against beneficiaries who may have been overpaid.
She says it is a business ethos that makes debtors out of beneficiaries, and it is an attitude that comes from the top.
Abernethy says she knows of cases where people are assesed as being in debt and not given a fair hearing to appeal the decision.
However, the Ministry of Social Development says there is absolutely no truth to claims by a beneficiaries advocate that its staff are encouraged to establish debt against beneficiaries.
The chief executive of the Ministry of Social development, Peter Hughes, says debt is one of a number of targets the department measures.
But Hughes says it is not his staff's focus. He says their focus is to ensure every client gets their full and correct entitlement.
Posted 10 March 2004 - 03:21 PM
Apr 02, 2002
The Auckland City Mission claims hundreds of people aged 65 and over are living below the poverty line.
And it says it has uncovered proof that their needs have been ignored for far too long.
The mission says it has recently uncovered a 50-year-old film that demonstrates what little progress has been made in caring for the elderly.
It says this year is shaping up to be one of the worst in the mission's history.
The mission says elderly people are in crisis, with many unable to pay market rents and many more living with the threat of eviction from council flats.
It has doubled its amount of food parcels in the last year and with an increasing elderly population needing help the service fears the situation is only going to get worse.
The historic film outlines concerns about thousands of old people living in disgraceful circumstances and conditions.
The issues are remarkably similar to those being faced today.
Auckland City Missioner Diane Robertson says old people in 2002 are being evicted from their homes and are living in debt without the basics of life.
Last year the Auckland mission handed out 350 food parcels to people aged over 65 - twice as many as in 2000 and substantially up on the previous year.
And just last month another 20 elderly people were referred to the mission - its highest rate since the service began.
The mission fears this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Posted 10 March 2004 - 03:22 PM
Nov 28 2002
A government department has curbed its policy of allowing unlimited days sick leave, following concerns about its increasing use.
The Ministry of Social Development has signed up most staff to 10 days sick leave in exchange for a one off payment of $900.
Last year nearly 20% of staff at Work and Income New Zealand took more than 20 days sick leave.
Sue Christie, the general manager of human resources, says she does not believe there was widespread abuse of unlimited sick leave but the amount of leave taken was increasing and something had to be done.
She says spending $3.8 million in one-off payments will be worth it in the long term.
Christie says while its early days, anecdotal evidence suggests it has so far been successful and less staff are calling in sick. She says frontline staff could be increased to 200 if the ministry can reduce the amount of sick leave taken
The deal was introduced in July.
The National Union of Public Employees is upset at one-off payments being negotiated for employees and is questioning whether the payments to public servants are part of the collective bargaining process or simply a bonus to staff because they are union members.
NUPE says it tried to negotiate a similar payment for the 30 staff it represents at the Inland Revenue Department, but was turned down. Secretary Ivan Finlayson says the Partnership for Quality agreement between the government and the Public Service Association puts smaller unions like NUPE at a disadvantage.
Finlayson says unions should be putting more effort into getting better wage rates for public servants, rather than negotiating inadequate payments that have no lasting effect on salaries.
Posted 10 March 2004 - 03:24 PM
Nov 14, 2002
A study into the standard of living in New Zealand has found almost 5% of people are facing severe hardship.
The report by the Ministry of Social Development says another 20% experience some degree of hardship.
The general manager of the Ministry's Centre for Social Research and Evaluation, Nicholas Pole, says in some cases people on benefits, sole parents and Maori and Pacific Islanders are unable to afford basic items like fresh fruit and vegetables, heating and warm bedding.
Pole says the impact on children is alarming, with 53% of sole parent families experiencing hardship.
The New Zealand Living Standards 2000 report shows people in work are better off than those on benefits.
Pacific Island people had the lowest living standard of all New Zealanders while 40% of New Zealanders had comfortable living standards and another 40% had good living standards.
Posted 12 March 2004 - 02:27 PM
Mar 12, 2004
A Wellington woman who defrauded the Ministry of Social Development of nearly $2 million has been jailed for five and a half years.
Lisa Clement of Wainuiomata admitted 18 charges involving the use of false invoices and wrongly obtaining a domestic purposes benefit.
A lawyer for the Serious Fraud Office told Wellington District Court Judge Christopher Tuohy that Clement committed fraud on 67 separate occasions over a two-year period.
Clement's lawyer, Louise Sziranyi, said she deserved credit for an early guilty plea, for the recovery of nearly $300,000 and for her difficult personal circumstances.
Judge Tuohy said Clement's offending was premeditated and devious and she showed no remorse.
Posted 12 March 2004 - 04:15 PM
UPDATE - Ministry of Social Development chief executive Peter Hughes is still seeking an apology from fraudster Lisa Clement for stealing more than $1.9 million of taxpayers' money.
Clement, 35, was sentenced to 5-1/2 years' jail in Wellington District Court today for stealing the money from the ministry while working as an executive assistant there.
Mr Hughes said he was in court with a group of ministry staff and Clement's former colleagues.
"We were hoping to hear an apology, but all through this process we've heard no apology from Lisa or an explanation for what she had done," he told NZPA.
"No apology was offered today. Instead what we've heard again was a whole lot of excuses and blame. That is very disappointing."
Mr Hughes said he would not comment on Clement's sentence but her actions had caused "huge hurt and distress in this organisation".
He would write to her today, asking her to reflect on what she had done and to apologise.
"This organisation and staff, as well as the taxpayers of New Zealand, are all the victims of this woman's actions. We've yet to hear that she knows and understands that."
Mr Hughes said he would release all the ministry's documents, reports and briefing notes about Clement's fraud to the media this afternoon.
ACT MP Muriel Newman she was asking the auditor-general to investigate "flaws" in Work and Income's audit procedures.
She had written to Social Services Minister Steve Maharey because the fraud raised serious concerns over his department's financial management and employment procedures.
However, Mr Maharey had not outlined how he would stop such a fraud happening again.
That left her with no choice but to refer the matter to the auditor-general, Dr Newman said.
A spokesman said Mr Maharey would be writing to Dr Newman next week, now that Clement had been sentenced.
Posted 14 March 2004 - 10:56 PM
By SEONAID ABERNETHY*
Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe were welfare children. Social welfare found them an orphanage or foster parents.
Some doctors and medical specialists who are practising in our hospitals were on income support 10 years ago.
Then there are permanent beneficiaries with disabilities who are not able to survive independently in a competitive marketplace.
The task of providing for those who are temporarily or permanently unable to provide for themselves is entrusted to the Department of Work and Income, commonly known as Winz. Its operation should be governed by the 1964 Social Security Act.
But Winz is out of control in terms of its powers under the act. It behaves as if it is a business that needs to generate income, and gains that income by establishing debts against beneficiaries. In particular, Winz is failing to exercise its duty to hold hearings into debts when requested to do so.
Take this scenario, which is typical of the Winz debt and criminal process. It is replicated all over the country, probably in epidemic proportions.
Let's assume that our Marilyn is dyslexic and has great difficulty writing. This means work opportunities are limited. Her son has gone to live with her sister, but she remains on a domestic purposes benefit while she hammers on the doors of talent agencies.
Let's also assume that Winz has decided that because JFK is visiting Marilyn during the week and weekends, she is living in the nature of marriage and her waitressing income of $6000 a year is undeclared work.
"You have not been entitled to the domestic purposes benefit for two years," says Winz, and a debt of $32,000 is established against her. At the same time, Marilyn is prosecuted for benefit fraud.
The future looks bleak. She faces imprisonment. JFK will not phone her and her sister will not let her son see her. She needs to escape a criminal conviction and annul the debt.
Her first obstacle is the million-dollar club, a club to which Winz officials can belong if they collect $1 million from beneficiaries in a year. The club is described in the Joychild report released by the Government last month.
The report, the work of Auckland barrister Frances Joychild, raises concern that Winz investigators are rewarded with performance pay for establishing debt against beneficiaries.
The report says performance pay is based entirely upon the amount of money benefit crime investigators take back from beneficiaries. And the culture is not just reflected in performance pay: there is also the million-dollar club. Investigators who collect that sum are publicly affirmed and valued by management.
Marilyn is unlikely to get out of her hole by simply explaining to the investigators that JFK is married to someone else and that her three-month, full-time waitress job at the film studio comes almost within the $4160 annual allowance for part-time work. Investigators have a financial incentive to nail her.
In the criminal court, Marilyn (or rather her lawyer) brings medical evidence to show that her learning disability was closer to Asperger's syndrome. As a result, she was on the wrong benefit. Moreover, criminal intent was practically non-existent.
The fact remains that she ticked "yes" on the DPB form to the question, "Is your child still living with you?" knowing this answer was wrong. But she did not know that she could get a sickness benefit and thought she would have to become a nightclub singer (something her foster mother had warned her against) to survive if she did not get some kind of benefit.
Technically, she had made a false statement. There is a plea bargain. Winz reduces the debt to $4000, Marilyn pleads guilty to the false statement charge and is convicted and discharged.
Once outside the court, however, she finds Winz wants the $32,000 debt paid. "You pleaded guilty and you were convicted," it says. "We want the full $32,000."
Under the act, Winz has a momentous power to create itself a creditor and the beneficiary a debtor. It can do this unilaterally. It can also recover the debt by going into bank accounts or deducting from wages.
Marilyn now faces a second legal journey through the review process set out in the Social Security Act. She has to exercise her power to compel a hearing into the debt. This is heard before a benefit review committee.
Getting a committee to consider a review can be tricky. In two recent cases, it took me, as legal counsel, more than 2 1/2 years of requests to get a hearing. In both cases, I had to file proceedings in the High Court to compel Winz to exercise its duty to convene a committee.
The committee, consisting of three members, is constituted afresh with each review. Two members come from Winz and the other from a local community board. The committee is semi-independent. It is not answerable in law other than by way of appeal to the Social Security Appeal Authority.
The challenge to the debt must be made within three months of the decision. After that time, a beneficiary must establish a case for a review out of time. Winz, however, has no statutory time limit in response. It seems that it can take as long as it likes to convene the committee. I have seen beneficiaries wait for years.
There is, however, the 1990 Bill of Rights Act. This says that "every person has the right to the observance of the principles of natural justice by any tribunal or other public authority which has the power to make a determination in respect of that person's rights, obligations or interests protected or recognised by law".
Procedural fairness and the right to a hearing are fundamentals of natural justice. The Bill of Rights Act is an ideal tool for Marilyn and hundreds like her.
But it is a hard road. I have had to ask the High Court to compel Winz to convene a committee hearing to review a debt. That person, who had severe disabilities, had been on the wrong benefit, was prosecuted and was assessed with a debt of $59,000 when the notional entitlement - the real loss - was only $700. For most of two years, the $59,000 debt was being collected at $47 a week.
Winz has a policy of not holding to the notional entitlement. That is hardly surprising, given the existence of the million-dollar club. But it has a duty to convene a committee when asked. Failure to do so is a breach of the Bill of Rights Act.
Our Marilyn should be able to call upon the Bill of Rights Act to get Winz to convene the committee. If she cannot, our country is in poor constitutional shape.
And if the benefit review committee cannot recognise that what she should pay back to Winz is its true loss - the notional entitlement - she has to plod on to higher levels of tribunal.
Best of Luck, Marilyn. Next time you enter the Winz world of benefits, wear an invisibility cloak.
* Seonaid Abernethy is an Auckland barrister.
Posted 24 March 2004 - 02:18 PM
24 March 2004
By COURT REPORTER
A Palmerston North man appeared in the district court yesterday after becoming unruly in the foyer of the city's Department of Work and Income office.
Kevin Tako, unemployed, entered the department's Main Street building and discovered a pre-arranged interview had been cancelled.
Annoyed at the inconvenience, Tako demanded to be seen by another department officer. He refused to leave the building when asked by security and police.
When threatened with arrest, he told police to go ahead and do so, as such treatment was "typical" of a government department.
In court, his lawyer Greg Woollaston said Tako had been expressing "dissatisfaction" to a Work and Income staffer when a department manager came out to question him about his benefit status.
Tako became even more "dissatisfied" when the questioning brought up details of his involvement in gang unrest in the city.
Tako would be suitable for a community work sentence, Mr Woollaston said.
Judge Gregory Ross said Tako's criminal record showed he "clearly had something of an attitude problem" when dealing with authority figures.
He then convicted Tako of wilful trespass and ordered him to come up for sentence if called upon.
Posted 16 April 2004 - 02:08 PM
16 April 2004
Some beneficiaries in Nelson are faking health problems to avoid having to take up seasonal work – and skewing unemployment figures, doctors' spokesman Graham Loveridge says.
Latest government figures show the national unemployment rate is at a historic low, with fewer than 79,000 people on the unemployment benefit – half 1999 levels.
West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor said a record number of job-seekers had been placed in paid work or directed into training and skill development, thanks to partnerships between employers and government agencies.
But Dr Loveridge said benefit-hopping was one of the reasons for the dramatic drop in the number of people on the dole in the Nelson region – from 2558 in March 1999 to 573 in March this year.
Those on the sickness benefit increased 57 per cent, from 572 to 901, and on a invalid benefit by 23 per cent, from 1697 to 2089.
Dr Loveridge acknowledged that in recent years, Work and Income had been doing a much better job of putting people on a benefit that suited them.
But others were pleading ill health to get out of seasonal work and switch benefits – something they needed a doctor's certificate for. "It's a significant problem at this time of year. We do see a fair number of people who are work-shy. You like to be able to trust the patient; it's one of the most uncomfortable roles a GP gets put into."
Work and Income acting Nelson regional commissioner Janine Dowding said the drop of those on the dole over the past five years far exceeded the rise of those on invalid and sickness benefits. She did not believe that people transferred benefits to avoid seasonal work.
The department advised GPs before the pipfruit season that some seasonable work did not preclude medical conditions.
She said reasons for the increase in the numbers on sickness and invalid benefits included the Government changing the eligiblity age for National Superannuation from 60 to 65, and the department's ability to better identify barriers to work, such as medical conditions.
Posted 02 May 2004 - 11:40 AM
DAVID WHITE/Sunday Star Times
Death of the single-income family
02 May 2004
By RUTH LAUGESEN and DONNA CHISHOLM
Male breadwinner families are in sharp decline as the mum-at-home household becomes an unaffordable dream for many Kiwi parents.
In 1986, traditional dad-at-work, mum-at-home families made up more than one-third of two-parent families. By 2001 that had plunged to less than a quarter.
The Sunday Star-Times unearthed the figures as part of its investigation into the case of Marilynn McLachlan and Tony Gilbert, of Waihi.
McLachlan wrote to Prime Minister Helen Clark asking her to explain why her family is sinking increasingly into debt on $55,000 a year. And how they are only marginally better off than a family earning $20,000 a year less.
But the government says help for families like them is coming in the May 27 budget.
Social Development Minister Steve Maharey said while he believed Gilbert should be bringing home more than McLachlan estimated, he accepted the couple was genuine.
The government wanted to help low-to-modest income families and, while $55,000 was on the margins, their four children "bring them into the frame".
He said an income of $55,000 should allow one parent the choice of staying home to look after the children.
He invited the couple to call him and promised his staff would ensure they were getting all they were entitled to.
Maharey said a start had been made to improve the lot of families but "no one is saying we are finished yet in terms of trying to transfer the prosperity of the country into the pockets of middle-income families like this".
Figures show families where both parents work are the new suburban norm.
Parents Centre chief executive Viv Gurrey said the figures were an indictment on successive governments' failure to support parenting.
"There are many women out there who would dearly love to stay at home with their families . . . but they have to go back to work."
While some women wanted to go back to work, this was not always the case.
Gurrey said government policies were heavily geared around working parents. Bigger childcare subsidies expected in this month's Budget were just the latest example.
Auckland University economist Susan St John said middle New Zealand families had been knocked by policies in the '90s shifting government support to only the poorest.
In 1991 the family benefit of $6 a week per child that went to all families was abolished. The benefit, by then eroded, had originally been worth much more.
"The middle and the low-income groups have just lost and lost and lost," said St John.
In Australia, a family such as the McLachlan-Gilbert family with four children would receive more than $80 a week in family payments.
Economist Andrew Gawith said traditional families were feeling marginalised partly because expectations were rising about what was a comfortable standard of living.
But he said one-income families careful with money could have a better lifestyle than some highly stressed two-income households.
Many two-income homes had ratcheted up their spending but were in debt "up to their eyeballs", he said.
Posted 07 May 2004 - 11:14 AM
06 May 2004
By NIKKI MACDONALD
A Wellington lung patient claims he will have to give up work and go on a benefit to be able to afford to travel to Auckland for the treatment he needs.
Pukerua Bay hotel worker Kevin Asquith is furious that, under a new Government scheme announced last month, beneficiaries may qualify for fast-tracked treatment to get them back to work, while he was told in effect that he would have to give up work to afford access to treatment. "To me the whole thing stinks."
Mr Asquith, a patient of Capital and Coast District Health Board, said he was referred by his specialist to Auckland Hospital for a lung transplant assessment and an appointment was made for Monday.
He was told to book his flights through his local district health board, which would pay for the trip. However, when he contacted Wellington Hospital, he was told the board funded only patients with a community services card.
Checking out flights on the Internet, he discovered the cheapest at such short notice was about $370 one way – well outside his budget. As a result, he had to cancel the appointment.
As he earned over the maximum threshold to qualify for a community services card, he said he would have to give up work and go on a benefit to afford the trip.
"My health is falling apart and I can't do anything about it. You can't walk into a bank and say I need money for a lung transplant."
After The Dominion Post's inquiries into Mr Asquith's situation, Capital and Coast has agreed to fund his trip, which has been rescheduled for later this month. But the funding policy stands.
Chief executive Margot Mains said the board could not afford to pay transport and accommodation costs for all patients travelling for treatment.
"In this instance there has clearly been considerable miscommunication to this patient, and we acknowledge that this may have created unnecessary distress for him.
"As a result I am pleased to report that our respiratory medicine service has this afternoon contacted the patient to arrange his travel to Auckland for a first specialist assessment, and we will pick up the cost of this."
The qualifying criteria, which Mr Asquith did not meet, were established by the Central Regional Health Authority in 1996 and had been used by central region health boards since that time, Ms Mains said.
The board was considering adding a hardship clause to allow individual circumstances to be taken into account.
Other health boards are more generous.
Southern region hospitals fund the first five hours of travel for outpatients referred to another hospital who do not have a community services card.
The Health Ministry is reviewing the policy on transport and accommodation allowances to achieve national consistency.
Posted 19 May 2004 - 11:20 AM
By KEVIN TAYLOR, political reporter
The Government agency that gave two people $26,000 to study hip-hop overseas has had to apologise for giving wrong answers to parliamentary questions.
Social Development Minister Steve Maharey admitted to Parliament yesterday that he gave about 50 incorrect answers to parliamentary questions using information from the Community Employment Group (CEG).
The agency's role is under review and a report is before the Cabinet, although the Government says its future is not under threat.
In another embarrassment for the Government yesterday, Corrections Minister Paul Swain apologised for giving incorrect numbers in reply to a question asking how many female prison officers had been investigated since December 1999 for getting involved with male inmates.
On May 11, he told Parliament five officers had been investigated, but yesterday he said he had now been told the number was 17.
Mr Swain said one woman was dismissed, eight resigned, seven cases were not proven and one case was still being investigated.
Written and oral parliamentary questions are a prime way for Opposition MPs to get information from the Government.
National MP Katherine Rich, who has embarrassed the Government by exposing grants such as the one for the hip-hop study, had asked why the objectives of about 50 CEG-financed projects had not been met.
In almost every case, CEG replied that a "thorough review" of its files showed the previous assessment that projects had not met objectives was found to be wrong.
Mrs Rich said it was "unprecedented" to get 50 incorrect answers to parliamentary questions.
And she questioned the revised answers, claiming CEG had "miraculously redefined" the outcome for political reasons. "It's all too convenient so many projects have suddenly become okay."
But a spokesman for Mr Maharey said there was no suggestion the corrected answers were sanitised to give a better account.
Mr Maharey told Parliament yesterday that he was now confident he was getting accurate information.
Prime Minister Helen Clark, clearly embarrassed by the hip-hop affair, said in March that all CEG grants were being reviewed.
Yesterday, Parliament was told that all grants are now personally approved by Labour Department chief executive Dr James Buwalda.
Mrs Rich has kept CEG under fire over the purpose of some grants, including the $26,000 given to Fuarosa and Saralia Tamati of Christchurch to travel the world for 70 days studying hip-hop music.
She questioned why Labour was financing a second Maori television station through a CEG grant of $115,000 to Kaitaia-based Te Reo Irirangi o Te Hiku o Te Ika, run by foreshore and seabed hikoi organiser Hone Harawira.
But CEG has also corrected its original answer to Mrs Rich on the station.
The agency now says the grant is for a regional television station, not a Maori television station.
The Herald has sought the original CEG documents under the Official Information Act so the newspaper can make its own assessment of the grant's purpose, but the agency has refused to hand them over.
Mr Maharey told Parliament yesterday that a review of the CEG's role - done by the organisation itself - was before the Cabinet.
He said he became aware last year that grants were not focused enough on addressing labour market needs in disadvantaged communities.
"The whole point of what we are doing with CEG is to ensure the original focus is restored to this organisation.
"It did seem to drift off-base."
CEG has a budget of $22.2 million.
Posted 09 June 2004 - 04:09 PM
09 June 2004
By TIM HUME and AMANDA WARREN
A widely circulated joke email which stereotypes Maori as violent, dope-smoking beneficiaries has sparked an inquiry at Work and Income.
The department has launched an investigation into an email circulated by an Auckland case manager to 35 other Social Development Ministry employees through their work internet addresses.
The email, apparently not created by the case manager, was leaked to The Press yesterday.
Titled "Maori television line-up for June", the email listed a parody schedule of television programmes, including The Young and the Jobless, Unmarried with Children, Little State House on the Prairie, Black Eye for the White Guy and H*A*S*H.
Work and Income deputy chief executive Ray Smith said the department was treating the matter "very seriously".
The email was racially offensive, and the behaviour of any employee would be "completely unacceptable" if they were found to have circulated it.
"It would fall far short of the level of professionalism and impartiality we expect of our staff," he said.
The circulation of offensive material breached Work and Income's code of conduct and its information technology policy, and the case manager faced disciplinary action if found responsible.
Smith would not reveal what measures the employee faced, saying no further details would be available until the investigation was completed.
Maori Television spokeswoman Sonya Haggie said she had seen the email and was not impressed.
"I don't think it deserves comment. Whoever's written it clearly hasn't been watching our programmes and witnessed the quality of our programming."
It is not the first time the fledgling channel has inspired controversial emails.
In April last year, United Future MP Marc Alexander was labelled a "dickhead" and an "overstayer" in an abusive email from Puti Hauraki, the director of Christchurch Maori mental health organisation Te Awa O Te Ora, after his comments the Government-funded service was a waste of taxpayers' money.
Associate Maori Affairs Minister John Tamihere said some of the spoof titles in the email were very "witty" and he did not find them offensive.
"Hell, let's wake up and grow up. I find a number of those comments to be awfully witty, clever and humorous.
"Personally I think it's OK to be witty and have a go at one another. I don't have a problem with it," Tamihere said.
His only concern was that the email was sent by a "well-paid" public servant during work hours when they "didn't have anything better to spend their time on".
Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said there was "room for risque humour" in society but it all depended on the context.
He did not consider it appropriate for such an email to be circulated by a Work and Income staff member who worked closely with Maori clientele and was expected to behave with sensitivity.
"The problem with these things is they can be funny in one context and not in another. I don't rule out light-hearted humour about serious methods as long as it's appropriate," de Bres said.
Government departments had standards relating to email content, de Bres said, and the matter should be dealt with by the chief executive of Work and Income.