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.
Veronique, aged 34, currently receiving a benefit
I didn’t want to [apply for a benefit] to start with. I’d stayed in the same house as my partner [who] I’d broken up with for a while, because obviously you can’t get a benefit unless you’re living in a different house. But you can’t live in a different house unless you have an income. Catch 22.
How does that work? Without then taking three kids and sleeping on someone’s couch?
The safest thing and the most stable thing for them was to stay there. It was until the point things just [got] too nasty and horrible that I went, “Ah, I have to go.” And ended up staying on a friend’s couch and using her address to get help …When I applied [for a benefit] I did the application online, which was fine, to not have to talk to anyone straight away. Then I [went] in and they’re like, “Well, where are you living?” I’m like, “On the couch.” And they’re like, “Well, where are your children?” [I said] “They’re safe at home and I go around there every morning and every afternoon and every evening”. I felt like I had to justify myself right from the start. Like the first point of [the] application was I’ve got to justify everything I do. Right down to [the caseworker asked] “how big is the couch?” … I’m guessing maybe if it’s a bigger, comfortable couch, I could stay for longer.
… [The caseworker] was asking about the fathers of my children and I said, “Oh there’s three different fathers,” and the look on her face, her mouth dropped wide open and I said, “They both have the same parents, though.” She looked at me again and said, “All three children come from donors, I’m in a same-sex relationship,” and she was just like, “Oh, oh”. But she just, you know, the judgment. “People like you are on benefits”. You could see [her], like you know; and then when I added that they actually had the same parents, it was a bit different. It all of a sudden changed. I thought, “well that’s really interesting”. Just the approach to all that as well…It was clear that all three birth certificates, … all the kids have the same names on the birth certificate, and this woman could SEE that. But, yeah, she still had to ask about the fathers. Really personal … It’s almost like they see you and go, right, “what shall I ask now?” [The caseworker] took notes and wrote it all on a separate screen over here and [wrote] “allegedly”, blah, blah, blah. You watch them type and like, “Allegedly?” “Allegedly living in a different house?” It’s like, “Whoa!” You just felt – yeah.
At the moment I’m in a sleep-out with my two kids, the two youngest. So we’re in one room together. Trying to find a place is obviously a nightmare in Christchurch and my applications with that as well, was just as bad. Like, “Oh, you’re in a sleep-out, you’re safe.” And I’m like, “You know, I’m also sharing a room with no facilities with my two little kids.” And I can’t have my 17 year-old with us obviously, ‘cause she’s 17, and you don’t need a 17 year old girl with 4 and 2 year old boys all in one room. So it’s been defensive right from the start.
I took the boys last time and they’ve both got tablets, ‘cause Granddad thought “what two and four year old doesn’t need a tablet for their birthday?” … They sat down with their tablets and they did the waiting quite well, we got to the desk to talk the lady and they’re still sitting there playing on their tablets … And she’s like “Oh, they are flash-looking tablets!” And I said, “Yeah.” And she goes, “So you’ve had SOME money recently.” And I said … “my father bought those for the boys as birthday presents.” And she says, “Oh, how old’s he?” or something. And I was like, “He’s two.” [she said], “Oh and he needs a tablet?” And I [thought] “Why is that your call?” … It’s like yeah, the judgement.