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Attitudes and Assumptions

Attitudes and Assumptions

Last month, Rebecca Occleston of Beneficiary Advisory Service released an article entitled Working and Welfare. As a follow up to this, she is now presenting Attitudes and Assumptions.

“The other day I was asked about my views on drug testing of beneficiaries. My first response was to laugh, but this has to be backed up with reasons, as many people believed the story the previous Government was selling that beneficiaries are not getting in to work due to drugs. This is just ridiculous (hence my desire to laugh) and a clear distraction. Sure, there are people in NZ who take drugs and some of them will be on benefits, but no more there than anywhere else. The figures showed fewer than 1% of those tested were coming out positive. So, continuing with that process would just be a waste of money as there was no helpful outcome from it.” (Figures are based on the info in this article http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/325553/tens-of-thousands-drug-tested,-hundreds-fail ) “As stated in many of our previous releases: people work when there are jobs there.

“You may be aware that drugs like meth can be detected for days after use, but will often be undetectable after that, whereas tests for marijuana may be detected for weeks. So, you have to wonder who is being targeted here and why. Over 50% of NZers now believe that marijuana should either be legal (or at least decriminalised) so why are people who have had a wee smoke (like ¾ of NZers have at some point) being beset in this way?

“This issue of drug testing is merely an example of methods used to denigrate the reputation of beneficiaries. The dob-in-your-neighbours campaign of the late 1990s had a terrible effect on this. This has been increased over the years to the point where even many beneficiaries believe the lies: most people know why they themselves are on benefits and are honest, but sometimes assume that others are just cheating the system. It is sad to see,” Rebecca adds.

“What we hope to see from this new Government, as part of their overhaul of the welfare system, is a change in attitude regarding beneficiaries. This has to start from the top and infiltrate the whole system. People applying for welfare benefits need this money for their living costs. Sorting out whether these people have enough for their housing, medical, food and other essential costs needs to be the first step,” says Rebecca.

“The attitude of the previous Government that (most) everyone needed to be in paid work because that would make them feel better also promoted some fairly nasty assumptions and prejudices. One of these being against people who can’t (temporarily or long term) work easily due to medical issues. Then there are people who want work, but can’t find it. Another is about denying that parenting is work. Yet another is undervaluing the importance of Volunteer work in our community. Obviously we are against people being forced into “volunteer” work, but many people choose to do this in a variety of ways (community groups, schools & kindys, helping where they feel it is needed or their passion lies), which can fill their lives with worth.

“The simple truth of the matter is that not everyone needs work right now. Some people have things to work through or other things on in their life. And people contribute to their community in a variety of different ways. For example, I would not be able to work as many hours without support from a non-paid-working friend. And many contributions are subtler than child care and may involve the support of friendship. Just because someone can’t work doesn’t mean they can’t add richness to our lives. This might be through support, art, conversation, or in many other ways.

“We also need to remember that people of all ability levels and ages can work and we need to promote this idea – don’t assume people are incapable of tasks without asking them. However, you will see that even we are talking about work. The Welfare system, as stated above, needs to look at that first – the welfare of all beneficiaries and how to structure a system where everyone who needs support is able to receive this. Our next release will be on our vision for a new welfare system. For now,” Rebecca challenges, “think about your own assumptions and attitudes: are we assuming people can’t or should do things? Are we discriminating against people based on their age, mobility, race, sex, looks, relationship status, income stream etc? Do you value what people do, regardless of whether this is paid? There are many questions for us to ponder.

Rebecca Occleston is the Speaker for Beneficiary Advisory Service (BAS)

Beneficiary Advisory Service is a Christchurch based Community Group who help people on benefits and low incomes with their problems with Work and Income. We are specialists in Welfare Law and provide advice, information, support and advocacy to hundreds of people every year. We can be found at Christchurch Community House, contacted on 03 379 8787 and bas.cprc@gmail.com or visit our website at bas.org.nz or find us on facebook: @BeneficiaryAdvisoryService

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