8 Jul 2019

Long queues outside MSD ‘shocking’ but not the norm - minister

From Checkpoint, 5:11 pm on 8 July 2019

There is no need for beneficiaries to queue at 2am outside a social welfare office in the rain to get help from advocates for hardship grants and it's wrong for people to feel they need to, says Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni.

However, she told to Checkpoint the ministry wanted to work with advocate group Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) to bring about a better system.

Checkpoint reported last week that families were lining up outside Manurewa's Work and Income office at 2am, hoping to get a meeting with the advocate group - Auckland Action Against Poverty - who help with their claims. 

Parents were there in the rain with their children, many having come from Papakura, Papatoetoe, Clendon or Ōtara, because they felt their grants would be denied without advocates to help them with their claims. 

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

AAAP said the situation was inhumane and had to change. 

Ms Sepuloni agreed to speak to Checkpoint tonight, and said there was no need for people to be lining up so early. 

"I saw the image and I saw the story and no one would pretend that it's not shocking to see that ... that is not a normal occurrence at MSD (Ministry of Social Development) offices around the country. 

Watch Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni's response:

"There's no reason to turn up at that hour," she said. "They're not meeting with MSD at that hour, they're actually meeting with their advocates."

"We tell AAAP ... on Thursdays they have guaranteed appointments for their clients, that we will see them on that Thursday - so there's no reason for them to turn up at that hour of the morning."

She said the Manurewa office's grant approvals statistics showed people felt confident in applying, and that their grants were being approved. 

"So, 98 percent of the hardship grants being sought at the Manurewa office are being approved, we're seeing something like a 60 percent increase in the amount that's been given out for hardship grants over the last year, and an increase in people applying," she said.  

However, she admitted the distance people were travelling could point to a breakdown in relationships between those applying and their case managers. 

"I'm not gonna act like in every instance that MSD may have been blameless, because there may have been fault on MSD['s part] and we need to take that on the chin. 

"We've actually got to find out what that was and make sure that we can repair that relationship and make sure that that person feels confident that they can approach MSD for support."

She said MSD had today launched a new email survey, which would be sent to about 100,00 clients' accounts a month. She said their initial testing showed about a 10 percent response rate - which was about what they had expected. 

People who had bad experiences may be less likely to fill out the survey, she admitted, and Māori were responding less than other groups. 

She said MSD's regional commissioner Mark Goldsmith had written to AAAP asking how the situation could be improved, and that he had spoken to someone at the group again today, but AAAP did not want to work with the ministry on improvement.

"What we want to do is work better with AAAP," she said.