In today’s gospel we are reminded of Jesus’ great compassion for those on the margins of society, in this case, one who is isolated by a hearing and communication impairment.
The implication is that we must look to those on the margins of today’s society and bring them to Jesus for his healing touch. So who are the needy in New Zealand society today?
The Recession and a new government wanting to tighten the collective belt have struck beneficiaries hard. When John Key was elected head of the National Party and subsequently led his party to victory in last year’s parliamentary poll, he reminded the country of his humble beginnings in a state house, with his mother on a widow’s benefit.
Now that former beneficiary Paula Bennett reigns over the social welfare system, the sorts of allowances that enabled her to gain a qualification and move into paid work are being denied to others—the Training Incentive Allowance which gives beneficiaries a chance to undertake tertiary study was cut in May and Ms Bennett is not ruling out further cuts to allowances.
Meanwhile the rhetoric surrounding the area of benefits has given rise to a number of myths that Benefit Education Service Trust (BEST) coordinator Teresa Homan says are damaging to beneficiaries. The constant cry that ‘We the taxpayers pay the benefit,’ does not take account of the fact that beneficiaries have been and aim to again be taxpayers. Also, those on the domestic purposes benefit have an estranged partner who is most likely paying child support which needs to be seen as offset against the benefit.
Teresa Homan says the claim that beneficiaries are paid a great deal of money is a myth. The benefit is paid according to the number of children it must support. Beneficiaries receive only the basic benefit—they don’t receive the $60 per child in-work payment made to earners.
A disability allowance is worth $55.88 a week which must cover any extra medical costs associated with a disability.
‘You can get temporary additional support if you have a deficiency but you need to reapply every three months and only specific costs can be included in the assessment.’
Teresa says there is a great deal of stress associated with applying for an invalid’s benefit. The doctor may agree that the patient should go onto the benefit but be subsequently talked out of this by Work and Income staff. This is because of the uncertainty of whether a patient might be unable to work for the next two years.
‘If you’re faced with that, you can start to think that people don’t think you’re as sick as you actually are.
‘I’m not saying that they should give it to everyone but I am saying that people go through a lot of angst really to get what they’re actually entitled to because they have paid taxes,’ Teresa said.
Instead of ‘beneficiary-bashing’, a more compassionate society and government would be creating opportunities for education and for work which brings dignity. We must all open our eyes and ears to the plight of those less fortunate.