National’s M.S.D. failure


Every election we hear about the need to address social welfare in New Zealand. We hear the Greens and Labour going on about the need for compassion and making sure that people on the benefits are reasonably able to afford basics. We hear about the need to reform social welfare to stop it being a hand out as opposed to a hand up from National and A.C.T. After nine years of National and A.C.T. being in office, I get the distinct impression that they have lost sight of their message.

Or that the message they are putting out is perhaps not the message that the centre-right should be putting out about social welfare. I mean, the supporter base of both parties are the ones talking up employers – and there are many great employers, don’t get me wrong – and talking down the beneficiaries whom they claim are druggies, fraudsters and so forth. The same also generally go for bureaucrats as being financial wastage costing hard earned income. Which brings me nicely to my next point.

A good example of bureaucratic mismanagement is the Ministry of Social Development. I have heard stories of time, money and resource wastage by staff from others who have dealt with the M.S.D. and its umbrella agencies such as Work and Income New Zealand, Child Youth and Family Services, as well as Studylink. I have also seen inept practices with my own eyes.

To some extent I believe the Social Welfare Act is to blame. It is a rigid piece of legislation that is not fit for 2017 and its application forces staff to straight jacket cases that simply cannot be. The result is a misguided attempt to help clients that just as regularly damages individuals and their trust in the very agencies that are supposed to be assisting them, as it actually helps anyone.

But also there is a need to have a sea change from the Minister down in terms of how the Ministry operates. The culture of the management does as much to fuel the wastage as the Act. When one has staff treating completely innocent clients as if they are criminals, with an air of suspicion and a complete lack of empathy, of course one should expect them to treat one with contempt. It is not to say the staff member/s in question are necessarily bad people and it might be their training, or lack of that is to blame.

An average request in my experience at W.I.N.Z. took two meetings to do what generally could have been done in one. For the most part the second meeting was simply an exercise in time wastage, as were subsequent meetings. When across five separate meetings you find yourself telling staff the same data each time and no tangible changes being given effect to, I think the client has a good reason to ask what is going on. When a staff member who has never had your case before tells you what he thinks of you after just five minutes, is he not jumping to conclusions – or off a proverbial cliff? Especially when it happens without even looking at your case notes or even realistically giving you a chance to explain your situation.

And the paperwork. I understand the need to leave a paper trail to cover ones legal behind, but sometimes the sheer pedanticism of the letters that get sent out makes one wonder if paper wasting is not part of their brief. An example that I remember clearly was being told in one letter that I was over paid by $0.65c or similar in a weekly benefit payment and that W.I.N.Z. would correct this over the next two weeks – yes such pedantic nonsense actually does happen.

Given this wastage and ineptness costs hard earned income by requiring more tax and more money to be borrowed – which has to be paid back at some point (but that is another story) – the silence from National and A.C.T. about one of the biggest waste machines in Government is quite extraordinary.

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