Wellington, July 9, 2019
There is no need for beneficiaries to queue at 2 am outside a social welfare office in the rain to get help from advocates for hardship grants and it is wrong for people to “feel’ they need to, says Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni.
She told to Checkpoint that the Ministry wanted to work with advocate group Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) to bring about a better system.
Checkpoint reported last week that families were lining up outside Manurewa’s Work and Income office at 2 am, hoping to get a meeting with the advocate group which helps with their claims.
Action Against Poverty
Parents were there in the rain with their children, many having come from Papakura, Papatoetoe, Clendon or Otara, because they felt their grants would be denied without advocates to help them with their claims.
The advocates are at the Manurewa office every Thursday and are allocated 65 appointments, typically handed out to those who are first in line.
AAAP said that the situation was inhumane and had to change.
Ms Sepuloni said, “I saw the image and I saw the story and no one would pretend that it’s not shocking to see that … that is not a normal occurrence at MSD (Ministry of Social Development) offices around the country.
Watch Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni’s response:
“There is no reason to turn up at that hour. They are not meeting with MSD at that hour, they are actually meeting with their advocates,” she said.
“We tell AAAP; on Thursdays they have guaranteed appointments for their clients, that we will see them on that Thursday – so there’s no reason for them to turn up at that hour of the morning.”
She said the Manurewa office’s grant approvals statistics showed people felt confident in applying, and that their grants were being approved.
“So, 98% of the hardship grants being sought at the Manurewa office are being approved, we are seeing something like 60% increase in the amount that has been given out for hardship grants over the last year, and an increase in people applying,” Ms Sepuloni said.
However, she admitted that the distance people were travelling could point to a breakdown in relationships between those applying and their case managers.
“I am not going to act like in every instance that MSD may have been blameless, because there may have been fault on MSD[‘s part] and we need to take that on the chin. We have actually got to find out what that was and make sure that we can repair that relationship and make sure that that person feels confident that they can approach MSD for support,” she said.
Ms Sepuloni said that MSD has launched a new email survey, which would be sent to the account of about 100,000 clients every month.
She said that their initial testing showed about 10% response rate, which was about what they had expected.
People who had bad experiences may be less likely to fill out the survey, she admitted, and Māori were responding less than other groups.
Ms Sepuloni said that MSD Regional Commissioner Mark Goldsmith had written to AAAP asking how the situation could be improved.
He had also spoken to someone at the Group again but AAAP did not want to work with the Ministry on improvement.
Published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz