The Ministry for Social Development is the umbrella agency for Work and Income New Zealand, Child Youth and Families Service, Studylink and other agencies. Holding the Social Development portfolio is something only a National or Labour M.P. generally gets to do so.
Labours start so far in overhauling the M.S.D. has so far been rather nondescript. Sure they have not even completed their first 200 days, but I was hardly impressed with the response I got from the Minister for Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni to a letter I sent concerning the state of the Ministry, the need to overhaul the legislation governing it and the agencies under it. Whilst the letter did not come across as patronizing nor do it come across as fully understanding the depth of the problem from the perspective of clients.
The death’s of those Work and Income staff in Ashburton was avoidable. Not only were Work and Income found to be culpable for poor security features and lay out, the culture of how staff treat clients can be at times toxic. Some staff are warm and friendly. Some ask how your day is going, whilst others have the hostility of U.S. Customs officials – your mere presence is somehow annoying and troublesome whilst others seem decidedly disinterested. How a staff member presents themselves is critical since the relationship of client and case manager is built on trust, which cannot be established if one or the other is not at ease. There will never be a justification for murder ever, but the motive for such senseless acts can potentially be derived from the poor treatment of clients, especially where their long term well being is at stake.
The toxic culture in itself though might not be entirely the fault of Work and Income. The governing legislation is quite prohibitive in parts, leaving no allowance for human nature. The computer systems, obviously defined by the physical parameters in which they were designed appear to lack a few basic checks and balances. When I asked for assistance following the cancellation of my benefit and being subsequently forced into the financial red, my eventual assistance was delayed two weeks when I could only wait two days because a staff member had failed to hit send on an electronic form enabling my assistance.
There are notable issues of waste inside the Ministry of Social Development and its umbrella agencies. I was called in 2012 to meetings where a number of clients would all sit around a table and tell a case manager what we had done to try to find work in the past few months – we had to be able to provide a list of employers that we had applied for jobs with. After going around the table and stating what we had done, the staff member would give us a spiel about which sectors s/he thought we would be best finding jobs – “right now there are two industries, you can get jobs in – the others are a waste of time: hospitality and construction”, said one staff member at one of these meetings, which perhaps fittingly seemed to be on dreary winter mornings. After 20 minutes or so, one would walk out and go back to their daily lives none the wiser than when they walked in.
Another instance was getting referred to a contractor working for Work and Income New Zealand. This person was a consultant working somewhere in eastern Christchurch. He was meant to help me with my Curriculum Vitae and Cover Letter, which someone at Work and Income thought needed improving. I found this funny then and I find it funny now that the consultant who I was meant to see took one look at both and actually admitted on the spot that as the two go, both were in pretty good order and he could only suggest minor improvements at best.
Granted these problems were five years ago, the letter from Ms Sepuloni seems to have completely dodged the questions I originally asked. I will try again, but I am not getting my hopes up.