Minister fronts people queuing outside Work and Income office

From Checkpoint, 5:22 pm on 11 July 2019

The government has fronted to a South Auckland Work and Income office where parents have again been queuing through the night to get help accessing emergency grants.

Earlier this week Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni told Checkpoint there was no need for people to be arriving so early to get help from advocates to access hardship grants.

She also said it was not a normal situation for Work and Income offices across the country.

But it is an increasingly common situation at the Manurewa office, where people arrived at 3am today to make it to the front of the line for an appointment with Auckland Action Against Poverty.

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

The first woman in line today said she had visited the Manurewa office in recent weeks without an advocate but only received some of the $380 emergency food grant she applied for.

"I came here for food grants and I asked for five kids and two adults and he said 'no.' And I said, 'Why? Give me the reason.' And he said, 'I'm not telling you why, it's just $100 I'm going to give you today.'

"I regret it. I shouldn't have come in my appointment, I should've lined up."

Ms Sepuloni was invited by Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) to see the situation for herself today - speaking to the 70 people that were queued up at 7.30am.

She said the government wanted to do better and did not want to see people lining up at 3am.

"I know some of you haven't felt comfortable coming to MSD by yourself and have preferred to have an advocate. We want to strengthen that relationship so you do feel comfortable and get that support that you're eligible for.

"But in the meantime, if you would prefer to have an advocate then of course you have the right to an advocate."

She was joined by local MP Peeni Henare and told people Ministry for Social Development staff would do all they could to support clients with what they were mandated to provide.

But that was cold comfort for some. One woman said if that was actually happening at Work Income offices, people wouldn't be lining up outside Manurewa every week.

"They just say there's family and friends to help you out. Well, my family and my friends are struggling as it is."

The early morning line outside a South Auckland Work and Income office.

The early morning line outside a South Auckland Work and Income office. Photo: RNZ

Ms Sepuloni said a programme for culture change had been underway at MSD for the past year-and-a-half, which had received positive feedback.

Work and Income regional commissioner Mark Goldsmith said staff would book follow-up appointments with everyone attending AAAP meetings today to ensure they received the right support.

"We're a human-to-human business, so sometimes we may not get it right, but on the whole our team do absolutely fantastic

"If people don't feel they have got the right decision, they can also approach us and ask for a review."

Mr Goldsmith said Work and Income staff would also be meeting AAAP next week to talk about better managing the line outside the Manurewa office.

AAAP spokeswoman Kathleen Paraha said Ms Sepuloni was the only government minister who had ever come to see the queues created when their advocates were at the Manurewa office. She remained hopeful the situation would improve.