Trojan Pony

As a qualified journalist with a record of contributing to society, it’s been a sobering ride into the bowels of the welfare system in just a matter of weeks: not so much that I find myself a fresh graduate without a full-time job, but more so to have first-hand experience with the questionable priorities of Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ).

I’ve paid tax – better known as having a working history – and got myself through tertiary education whilst receiving peanuts under the guise of a student allowance. These seem like gold stars on a CV, but in reality, they equate to two strikes against my eligibility for assistance whilst I seek to further my employability.

It’s needless to say my experience with WINZ, as an individual with proven societal contributions and the objective of continually carrying the cross of being a functional citizen, has been bizarre. As per the Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD) Statement of Intent (2018-2022), they’re there to help – or something like that.

Surely somebody who has done their bit deserves a bit of slack? You would think so – but think again.

Upon meeting with my case manager, I asked what is expected of beneficiaries in terms of applying to work. A red flag emerged when I learned efforts towards employment go unmonitored, which implied the exploitative potential of the jobseeker benefit by questionable individuals.

Due to responsible actions taken thus far in life, I’m an undeserving person in the eyes of the government ministry. Sadly, one must be on the bones of their arse and have drained their accounts before WINZ considers offering a helping hand. For example, under the Course Participation Incentive, it appeared promising to start with, that I could get a full licence driving test covered, plus a lesson or two if need be. Due to the nature of work I have trained in, being fully licensed is completely reasonable: shift work equals driving at varied hours and having the legal right to do so would be another plus to my employability. Of course, it was too good to be true to expect support in a small expense which would only just end up in another purse compartment of the government (Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency). The ball was dropped: having accumulated savings as a working student, I exceeded the asset limit of $1,126.21.

On an interesting side note, I sought clarity around the criteria of assets with my case manager who, by the way, suggested I consider “upskilling” in unrelated areas – namely, training for call centre positions – should I lose patience in the job hunt. Besides the asset limit, MSD stated everyday modes of transport “…are not deemed as an asset unless you had surplus to requirement…” Yet another dodgy inference that providing I had below $1,126.21 – achieved legitimately or by hiding it somehow – sitting in the bank, I could well have a Lamborghini in the driveway AND be within my rights to play the system to my benefit.

orange sports car on roadway
I could have a Lamborghini in the driveway AND be within my rights to play the system to my benefit. Photo by Kevin Bhagat. The BFD.

I was initially impressed to find on the A-Z benefits and payments the offers of assistance awarded to start-up businesses, so I enquired for future reference. Less than five minutes into a conversation with a remarkably honest representative, it was clear somebody with my everyday credentials is beyond help. “Your CV is a bit too impressive and you’re overqualified,” based on WINZ’s standards.

Flexi-Wage for self-employment hints strongly that one can receive help to “start your own business” plus receive assistance towards covering “costs while you get started”. But a can-do attitude and cracker idea isn’t enough to qualify as it’s destitution and a lack of effort that will make magic happen.   

Or simply this:

As discussed with the representative, had I lacked a standard working history, graduate qualification and short-term beneficiary status, I’d instantly be better positioned for WINZ favouritism under this scheme, the Business Training and Advice Grant and the self-employment start up payment (all of which demand similarly grim circumstances). How ironic when working and studying develop problem-solving and critical thinking abilities to varying degrees, besides demonstrating what should be sufficient motivation to complete the paperwork required in the applications.

Evidently, one must have their issues teed up, and it’s those arguably least likely to think of, sustain and commit to a decent business (let alone tackle a 20+ page business plan and 12-page self-employment plan) who are prioritised. Thus, people like me who have feasible plans, yet only so much in the piggybank, are disadvantaged by this kind of criteria. Surely those with proven efforts made in life would be safer pairs of hands to do something constructive with reasoned handouts as opposed to those with minimal or no history of motivation. Why does New Zealand’s social welfare system equate to the rewarding of less-than-ideal behaviours and inactions? Apparently, it’s too much of an ask for MSD to give a skilled and capable graduate a hand to keep up the good work when the preference is to enable long-term economic burdens.

So, besides the reasonable actions taken and intended, what completely irrational WINZ-certified options are left?

  • Lose total control of budgeting skills to whittle down assets below $1,126.21. (Widens the scope of additional handouts I’d be entitled to)
  • Stay on the Jobseeker Benefit. (So far, so good, with exploitative potential for years of passive income)
  • Commit what it takes to earn my keep behind bars. (A roof over my head, free meals and why not a funded qualification while I’m at it)

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