Caritas is opposing proposals in the new Social Security legislation which would effectively transfer the onus of responsibility for identifying correct benefit entitlements from the Department of Work and Income (WINZ) to beneficiaries themselves.
Caritas research and advocacy officer Lisa Beech told the Social Services select committee currently considering the legislation that church agencies and groups were among those left to clean up the mess when WINZ staff got it wrong.
She read from an e-mail received from a St Vincent de Paul group:
A couple of weeks before Christmas, a husband decided to beat up his wife. A child in a wheelchair gets between them. The husband tips him out of the chair and smashes the chair against the wall. The older boy gets involved and scores a hiding too. She takes the kids, including two preschoolers, to a refuge. From there to a flat – they have nothing but what they stand up in. They went to WINZ who said here’s a letter to St Vincent de Paul. They will help you. Your benefit will be there for you on 26 December. Imagine – no furniture, bedding, beds, pots and pans, cups, plates, knives, forks etc – nothing – no food, no money.
WINZ did not provide the assistance that this family was entitled to.
While the St Vincent de Paul group assisted the family, the question Lisa asked the members of the select committee was: ‘Are you absolutely certain that if this family visited your electorate office, you and your staff would be able to identify by name all the assistance this family actually should have received?’
Caritas supports some aspects of the legislation, but questioned the timing, saying the legislation had been introduced just before Christmas, after a formal announcement that major restructuring of social welfare would be delayed until 2008.
Caritas also opposed a clause in the Bill which could allow WINZ to issue regulations requiring work-testing of beneficiaries on seven days of the week. This could mean that beneficiaries will be penalised for refusing to work on Sundays.