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.
Desiree, aged 35, studying part time, currently receiving a benefit
[The benefit] is stigmatised, for a long time I was really upset but now its just water off a duck’s back. But I’ve been back in and out of the workforce as well, due to my depression as well as having another one and both partners didn’t follow through obviously. So it’s just a matter of fact, you just get on with it and you have to accept the help and what people don’t realise is that it’s actually really humbling to actually accept the help. I’ve tried to be the super mum and I still would rather say super mum than solo mum, but I am not a super mum. I can’t study, work and do the kids. I’ve just tried that and got made redundant and flunked my last two papers. When life conditions crop up it’s hard, you can’t just go hang on life, I’ve got a paper to get out and I’ve really got to go to work today, oh crap one of the kids is sick. It’s just me and I’m responsible for my things but you do, you get stigmatised all the time through every media outlet, through people, friends, everyone. Everyone judges because they haven’t been in the position.
… I’ve been a working citizen for 20 odd years and I’ve worked really hard and just because my partner cheats on me that’s my fault now and now I have to be stigmatised for that? No. Nowadays I let it go, it’s not even worth getting emotionally invested and using up your energy so you just let it go. Most of the times if I do get riled I’ll just make a joke, it’s the best way of going about things, just laughing about it and letting it wash off.
… Last month I went back onto the benefit and so I’d just come off working and I’d spent a whole lot of money to fix my car because I don’t want to drive around with the kids in it with the back wheel bald. So I’ve been stuffed around by three different mechanics so it cost me about $500. This was not WINZ money. It was the last couple of weeks pay that I got. So I’ve now spent $720 something dollars on my car and so I went into WINZ to have my first appointment of signing up and she said, “Okay so what debts and stuff have you got outstanding?” I showed her my power bill and that was like the last month because it had just come in and she’s like, “Well how come you haven’t paid this?” I said, “Well unfortunately I’ve just had to spend all this money on my car, I needed to get a warrant because I’ve been pinged so many times for not having a warrant that …I have to pay the money.
… Then she said, “So you’d rather have your power cut off and everything and your babies go cold and starve and stuff?” I said, “Excuse me?” She said, “Well basically why didn’t you pay your power?” I said, “I just told you, I paid for my mechanics, I’d rather have my whole family safe.” I said, “Do not judge me, do not judge me” and I raised my voice. Then the manager came over, could see that I was really starting to get upset ‘cause she was also saying “we can’t help you out at all with that. We just can’t” and she’s like “you’ll never be able to get any help”. I said, “Actually as a New Zealand citizen I’ve just lost my job, I’m a solo mum, I’m entitled to help from the government.” I said, “I’ve been busting my arse for the last few years trying to keep that job that I had, trying to work, study and look after kids. I said, “How do you think you’d do if you were in my situation?” It was just reeling off my tongue; I was slowly getting more and more agitated. She was just like, “the power or the car” and I couldn’t believe the judgement that she made on me I said, “Do not dare judge me as a mother because I’d rather keep my kids safe in the car and have my power cut off.”
… I said [to the manager] “I don’t think I should have to sit here and listen to her judge me for being a mum and paying [my bills]… usually my bills I either pay one or the other and I have $50 a week left for food. I am paying all my debts; I am paying my rent, paying my power. If you have something like the car that blows things out you’re screwed. …I caused a bit of a stir in the office because I don’t mind sticking up for my rights and my children, I’m like loud voice, yeah I will make a scene because I need my stuff because my kids need this. It’s not about me and it’s not about me having a sense of entitlement. I’ve worked my butt off and I’m also trying to continue to work. I’m looking for jobs, I am studying and I’m looking after the kids. I’m doing more than my fair share.