4 Jul 2019

People queue from 2am outside Work and Income for help

From Checkpoint, 5:20 pm on 4 July 2019

Families are being forced to endure inhumane conditions while queuing for emergency grants to feed and clothe their families, beneficiary advocates say.

Parents lined up in the torrential rain for hours this morning outside Manurewa's Work and Income office to meet with advocates who help them with their claims.

Without them, they say their desperate pleas for cash are almost always denied.

The first person was outside the Manurewa office just after 2am today - he said he was there to get a grant to pay for warm clothes for his three children.

"I need to buy long pants, jumpers, jerseys and that, and then I need to get food, because I stay in a three bedroom house - I pay $610 a week."

Toni had travelled from Pukekohe and arrived about 4.30am - she was there to get food and winter essentials for her whānau.

"I'm working about 20 hours a week on top of the benefit and it's just not enough.

"That comes a lot down to the rent market, I'm paying $500 a week for a three-bedroom, which is just one unit with three tiny bedrooms that come off that," she said.

"It's ridiculous - the price for rent out here."

Randeep arrived with his son at 6am - he was desperate for money to cover their food and power bills.

"Because we are on the couple's benefit we don't really get much, sometimes we get $280 maybe $300 and my babies they both drink formula ... we need money for medical appointments and that as well."

Everyone in the line spoke of the difference it made having advocates from Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) with them when they met with Work and Income staff.

The advocates are at the Manurewa office every Thursday, and are allocated 65 appointments. They are typically handed out to those first in line.

AAAP spokeswoman Kathleen Paraha said it was the only chance some beneficiaries had to access emergency funds to cover shortfalls or any unexpected costs.

"When AAAP aren't here they don't get anything, they get turned away all the time."

She said families were struggling - with rent being the main problem.

"They're not neglecting their children they just can't afford it, but WINZ seems to think if you can't afford your food you're neglecting your children," Ms Paraha said.

"That's rubbish. They just can't afford it - the rent is too high."

Only a few Work and Income clients are only allowed into the building at a time - with no shelter from the rain for those waiting.

"They've been here since 2 o'clock this morning, it's not humane to leave them out in the rain like this, especially kids," Ms Paraha said.

"We only get this many people because they get turned away so often and they can't do that when AAAP is here."

Ms Paraha challenged Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to come and see the situation herself to get an idea of what they were up against.

"The government needs to get off their bums and come down and have a look for themselves.  

"Come see the reality for yourself because it is really, really bad."

Work and Income regional commissioner Mark Goldsmith said in a statement he was concerned about the situation at the Manurewa office.

"Impact days organised by Auckland Action Against Poverty create an on-the-day, high level of demand not experienced by any of our other offices."

He said the number of people allowed in the office was restricted to protect clients and staff.

"We have made numerous attempts to work more closely with AAAP so people do not have to wait to so long, but they have refused."