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.
Sam, aged 23, currently receiving a benefit
I went into Work and Income when my youngest one was a few weeks old, and he kept screaming hard out; and the lady behind [the desk] was a total bitch. And she was like, “Oh, how come your youngest baby’s a different colour to your oldest one?” And I said, “Oh, because obviously it’s a different dad.” And she said, “Well where’s the dad?” I said – because I had them with him – but I just said, “Oh, it was a one-night stand.” She said, “So you just go out having one night stands and having kids.” And I said, “Why do I have to explain that?” And he kept screaming and screaming and she kept shaking her head real obviously. I was trying to get food and after he’d screamed for about 20 minutes, she printed me off all these parenting courses and stuff and said “Oh, I will help you with food today but only on the condition that you agree to go to some of these.” And I looked at her; I said, “you’re fucking kidding me.” I was so mad. I was like, “Shove them up your arse!” So I chucked them at her, and she was like, “Security! Security!”
But she told me too if I kept having different kids to different men, ‘cause I’ve got two, that they will come and investigate me … She was the rudest person I’ve ever come across at Work and Income.
[Whenever I used to go into Work and Income] I just knew the judgement was there. Especially after I had my youngest one. I got postnatal depression with him, so I used to take him and he’d be screaming the whole two, three hours that I was there. And I’d be getting judged and asked questions and like shushed and it would just make me so [upset] I just cried every time that I went in.
[Case workers] always made me feel so small about it. And then having this child that was just screaming and I couldn’t cope with that anyway. Yeah, I hated it. And I didn’t have anybody to take my youngest one, so I had to take him; and it was just horrible. [My son would] start crying – it’s like he knew we were going to WINZ, he just screamed his head off. But they got a new security guard and the security guard would walk him around the whole time. So, I was actually allowed to breathe and sit there, like he would start screaming instantly, the security guard would take him away aand he’d stop and then he’d be given back to me, and he’d scream again. After I dealt with it went on medication, and bonded with him; he’s been fine. But the first two years were hell.
The receptionist that used to be in [office name] it was absolutely horrible, ‘cause I used to take my oldest one in, no toys, nothing for them to do. And the receptionist was a horrible old biddy. … She would yell at my child. She put her hands on him a few times and I went nuts. She said always, even if he was up and I was singing to him and he was like just jumping around in front of me and she always said, “Sit him down on his bum. Make sure he stays there because people are gonna fall over him, he’s disrupting people.” She was so at me about him, and she was very vindictive. Because I’d always tell her not to put her hands on my child. So she’d put me at the bottom of the list and then forget about me. And I’d go up hours later, after everybody that had come in after me had been seen and I was like, “Hello?” She was like, “Oh, sorry. Your name’s down here, we forgot to put it up.” And I’m like, “That’s so obvious that you’re doing it.”
But it’s so boring for kids … There’s not even a colouring in book or anything. It used to make me so much more stressed out waiting. Getting told off over and over. By the time you have seen somebody you’re like all wound up because you can’t keep kids still.
The WINZ offices are also boring for adults. There’s no magazines, there’s no coffees, no nothing. Everywhere else I go, every appointment or anything, they always offer hot drinks, it’s always magazines, it’s comfy. There’s nothing in there. You sit on a chair for an hour or so.
I went in [to Work and Income] a few weeks ago and I was talking to [a caseworker] and he was lovely. … I was talking to him about a few of the workers there, and he was saying he hates it. He hates some of the workers there because they just have this attitude that they’re better. And he said that he does not have any right to judge anybody like that, because they’re taking steps to get better; if people aren’t he’s not in any position to judge. And he was the first guy I’ve come across [like this] and he was like praising me to the max, saying, “You’re doing this, you’re doing this” and he said, “You’re doing really well,” and I said, “You’re such a lovely worker.” And we just talked. Whereas the rest just get behind the [ the desk] ask you these blunt questions; just type [and] don’t talk to you.
That would change the whole thing if people in the WINZ offices and also outside of WINZ, people that you know, treated you differently. Or weren’t so judgemental about it.