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.
Kirsten, age 36, currently receiving a benefit
… My biggest issue with WINZ [is] I don’t feel like there’s any type of scenario that they’re helping me help myself. I think it’s controlling, I think they want to keep you down. I don’t think that they encourage you to take any ownership over your money or ownership over budgeting or ownership over returning to work. I think there’s so many conditions and it’s so hard that it’s the opposite to what it ought to be.
… [They need to] have it transparent, have it really clear what the system is – clear. I went to [WINZ to] find out what I was eligible for and what the stand down period was and how to apply; and then I worked out all my timing and I had the conversation with the partner [that] the marriage was gonna end and then I went into WINZ and I brought all the documentation and they said “yeah, that’s great, you’re gonna get this much on this date” and I went “great”. Waited patiently – the ten days or whatever first payment date – it didn’t come. I went in and said “I was expecting a payment” and they said “oh yeah there was a mistake, we’ll put it in tomorrow” and it was 10% of what I had been told it was going to be. And this is when I sobbed [at WINZ] – I went back and I was like “what am I gonna get and when am I gonna get it?” They made me feel like I was in the wrong and I didn’t know what was happening and for me the unknown was scary. Because I didn’t know. I still had bills to pay and things and I didn’t know, I’d kicked [my husband] out. My parents have got seven children between them; it’s not up to them to support a 35 year old. So having one system that’s clear, to me would be the best thing.
… I do part-time work when I can and … it just keeps pushing me over the threshold. I’ve been penalised so much working … Often you are [better off on a benefit]. The second that it looks like you might even [a] tiny bit be getting ahead, getting yourself sorted, you get these massive bills with WINZ. I accrued a $700 debt with WINZ because I just got the threshold wrong and I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know what I was eligible for. I didn’t know when I earned it how it was gonna slam me. It was so stressful. I lost the plot a few times and wrote these awful things to them (which actually got a response). I said you’re hurting me; you’re hurting my daughter.
… The other thing that I was quite shocked at … I don’t wanna say this is fact, but my belief is … with their current system, there is no incentive for you to stop being [on] a benefit, like to make that transition. ‘Cause transitioning from getting support from the government to doing it on your own when you’re a solo mother with a young child is difficult. There’s no support to get you supporting yourself and it’s like the second you seem to be getting a little bit ahead it’s like they just rip it out from under you.