This post was transcribed directly from a focus group recording made during my research. The woman’s name has been changed and any information that could potentially identify her has been removed. In places I have inserted words for clarity (enclosed within square brackets), and in others I have taken out words (indicated by … ), usually because this information contained some identifying features. In this account, Frances describes her visits to Work and Income.
Frances, age 24, currently receiving a benefit
Unless [the case manager] is a nice person or they have some sort of understanding of the situation, if it doesn’t meet the criteria basically the computer says yes or no and that’s it. [Case managers] answer to a technical system rather than [on] a personal basis.
That whole thing about no eating in there, they expect you to wait for hours and you’re not allowed to eat. There’s nowhere to get water unless you go into the toilet and ask them for a cup and then get your water from the tap. Like I’ve gone in with my son’s water bottle and he’s drunk it empty and then I’ve gone, “Can I get some water?” They’re like, “Oh there’s some tap water in the bathroom.” And I’m like, “Yo I’m Māori, we don’t drink or eat anything that comes out a bathroom.”
They don’t have understanding of any of that so you just do it anyway. If you leave, like I’ve done that before eh? You’ve had to leave because your kid’s screaming or you just need to take them for a walk in their pram so they fall asleep. You get back and if they’ve called your name that’s it, you go down to the bottom of the list and you have to wait again.
… Sometimes I take my daughter in there on purpose because eventually she’ll start screaming [so I’ll get seen sooner] and a few times she’s started screaming and they’ve come up and gone, “Frances.” I’m like “yes? I’m here” but then I have to sit in the appointment exhausted because I’m sitting there [rocking her] for an hour doing whatever they need done, giving her a rattle, I’m trying to feed her while they’re talking to me and it’s just so awkward.
I said to the receptionist lady once, “Can you just let me now about how long I have to wait?” They don’t even have a time system or anything. So I said, “Is it like an hour or two hours or more?”…and she goes “No, you just WAIT, that’s how it goes.” I said, “I just wanna know so that I can either sort out someone to come pick up my daughter if it’s more than two hours or I can wait for under an hour, she would probably be able to handle that.” She goes, “Oh why don’t you get someone to look after her?” I was like, “Oh yeah ‘cause I’m really gonna pay a baby sitter so I can come to WINZ to ask for money for food. That’s really practical.”
… As soon as I went homeless I got into like a file with the manager there and [the manager] kind of got to know me personally and then after that it was a lot better when I went in there. But [usually] no one gets that sort of opportunity. Like I got shifted – as soon as I got given my house – I got shifted to the next suburb and then I had to walk into an office with people that didn’t know me and went straight back to the roll of the eyes, the sigh, no eye contact, the judgement calls and the crying because I left crying and I haven’t been back since. Even when I really need food I’m just like I’m not going back there. It’s not worth it. They belittle you like this and strip you naked in front of everybody and even when you’re crying, sitting there because they keep cutting you off and treating you like a child … Yeah even when I was crying [the caseworker] had no sense of understanding or empathy at all and I just I just got up and left. … I see people doing it all the time, getting really upset and just having to leave because … they look around and they’re just like, “got to get out of here, can’t handle it” and that sucks that you get put in that sort of position to have to feel like that for what is so called our entitlements [for] being a New Zealand citizen or a caregiver or a parent.