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.
Jessie, aged 31, currently receiving a benefit
A lot of people automatically assume because you’re on a benefit you’re a bum and doing nothing; lazy doing nothing, should be out there working. There’s a lot more to it than that especially if you’ve got children and everything. I find it hard. … I’d love to be working and stuff but just trying to get my studies and that finished, there’s no way I can juggle study, four kids and work at the same time.
[At Work and Income] you’re not a person. You’re just another number; just another Māori on benefit. It’s more about how many Māori aren’t employed and how many are. For me, I don’t really feel like a person when I go in there; I feel like I’m just another number. Some of the people I go to see are really nice but others are just horrible; they’re like bulldog. Make you feel so embarrassed and it’s like whakaiti. You’re so like whakamā and that, no, I don’t wanna go back there. [When] you get a food grant, they say “you know you’re not allowed to buy alcohol or smokes with it?” I was like, well obviously not, but why would I? It’s just that whole judgemental. Like I don’t even smoke so why say it? Don’t even bother to say anything.
[It’s] hard too if you go in there and you’re treated really badly. If you kick up a fuss about it then they’ll just kick you out of the building. And there’s that worry as well that you could lose your benefit. So you can’t really pipe up and say “why are you looking at me like that?” because they will just get you to leave and they’ve got security guards at pretty much every WINZ anyway.
I left a bad relationship when I first went back on the DPB solo parent and they were asking me questions about the relationship, what kind of violence it was and what happened and this. It’s none of their business. They just do it to just to be nosy just ‘cause they can. [Caseworkers] feel like they have a certain power I think. When when you walk in [to Work and Income] there’s all these: “It’s okay to ask for help’ for violent relationships” [posters] , which is cool, it’s a really good thing; but at the same time I feel it’s a bit judgemental as well just ‘cause they aim it towards Maori ‘cause all the people in the pictures are Māori or Pacific Islanders.
If you do say something or divulge something that hasn’t got to do with your application, WINZ can ring other places; like [they] all stay in connection. So if you’re saying, “I’m trying to get out of an abusive relationship,” they could just be bang, straight onto the phone to CYFs or whatever. Then you’ve got them on your doorstep. … Then all these other agencies will get involved and you feel like everyone’s kind of closing in on you … So then [it] becomes not only you’re just trying to get onto the benefit, but you’re having to deal with all these outside people that are looking in, judging you when they don’t know you. And it can be quite hard especially being in an abusive relationship. Whereas I wasn’t the abusive one, it was him, but I was still getting judged on it as well. I found that really [hard]. You ask “why did I even ask for help in the first place when you’re getting judged?” and it’s not even you as the person that’s doing anything wrong.
Some of the WINZ workers are really nice. You go in there and they’ve been through what you’re going through and they know what is going on… and then they’ll do everything they can to help you out. But you find that it’s only maybe one or two in every office that are like that and the rest are just horrible. Depends on who you get. If you get a nice person then it’s obviously gonna be a good experience rather than if it’s someone that’s not nice and it’s just gonna be horrible. I’ve been on both ends – I’ve had people that are so nice and willing to help me and that, and I’ve been at the other end where I’ve had horrible people and they just won’t do anything.