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Beneficiary Battles On

Press Release – Welfare Justice Dunedin

Welfare Justice Dunedin will be at the High Court on November 8 in support of a Dunedin man in a David and Goliath fight with the Ministry of Social Development.Press Release

Beneficiary Battles On

Welfare Justice Dunedin will be at the High Court on November 8 in support of a Dunedin man in a David and Goliath fight with the Ministry of Social Development.

Last month the Human Rights Tribunal ruled Gordon Holmes had suffered substantial humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings during a two-year quest to find out why Work and Income New Zealand had not paid him benefits to which he believed he was entitled. The tribunal ordered WINZ to pay a total of $17,000 in damages and ordered a review of its procedures, expressing concerns about the way the agency’s Dunedin branches handled clients’ requests. Privacy Act breaches were not isolated and had been ‘sustained and systemic’, the tribunal reported. WINZ has appealed the decision.

‘This case has highlighted systemic inadequacies in the institutional culture of Work and Income both locally and at the national level,” Welfare Justice Dunedin (WJD) spokesperson Olive McRae said. Welfare Justice, a New Zealand-wide organisation, was established last year to help Ministry of Social Development clients navigate a system designed to leave them struggling, she said. Many were denied benefits to which they were entitled and were treated in a humiliating manner that would not be tolerated in any other circumstance.

WJD fully endorsed the tribunal’s findings. ‘We challenge the Ministry to stop using bully tactics and taxpayer money to drag Mr Holmes through the High Court, and to take on board the tribunal’s recommendations. This isn’t an isolated incident. WJD has been inundated with appalling stories of breaches of privacy, humiliation, loss of dignity and a widespread disconnect from professional conduct among WINZ staff.’

The whole organisation desperately needed a substantial audit. Welfare advocacy groups were underfunded and academics were either unwilling or unable to speak out against government departments. Meanwhile beneficiaries had endured horrific treatment.

WJD was now building a sustainable model of advocacy for beneficiaries. ‘We have been extremely heartened by the response we have received by the general public. Now we are calling on the relevant academics to step up and get involved in this process to ensure that beneficiaries have an avenue to be heard.’

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