11 Jul 2017

Father calls out MSD over benefit: 'It's all so petty'

5:44 am on 11 July 2017

A father of two intellectually disabled children has accused Work and Income of robbing his daughter of her benefit, after it was suspended for nearly three weeks while the pair were overseas.

Cliff Robinson, the parent of two adult children with intellectual disabilities has fought for a decent wage for full time parent caregivers over the last 15 years.

Cliff Robinson Photo: RNZ/ Brad White

Cliff Robinson, 80, holidays once a year with his 50-year-old daughter, Marita, who was born with the neurodevelopmental disorder microcephaly.

The pair went to Vietnam from 1 June to 27 June - it's a holiday from Cliff's son, Johnny, who on top of microcephaly has schizophrenia and diabetes, making caring for him "really hard work".

But because it had been 49 weeks since their trip to Malaysia last year, and not 52 weeks as per Work and Income policy, Marita only received her Supported Living Payment of about $350 a week for one week while in Vietnam.

It was suspended for the remaining 20 days.

"How can they sleep at night knowing that they've robbed an intellectually disabled girl of $1000," Mr Robinson asked.

"I mean how can they lay straight in their beds, how can [Anne Tolley] lay straight in her bed? Hasn't she got a conscience? Doesn't she think this is wrong? Doesn't she think that New Zealand, with a robust social welfare system and a welfare state, could treat an intellectually disabled girl a bit better than that?"

Mr Robinson said the time Marita could spend overseas each year had decreased from 13 weeks to just four in recent years, which was what caught him out.

"It wasn't her fault, it was my fault, I wasn't aware. I thought it was days per calendar year, I didn't realise it was from the return of the previous trip, I mean it's all so petty."

Anne Tolley

Minister for Social Development and Acting Minister for Disability Issues Anne Tolley Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Mr Robinson said the holiday was essential for him to be able to provide the best care he could to both his children. He led the campaign for family members who were primary caregivers to be paid, winning the minimum wage in 2012, and said it was no different to a typical worker's holiday.

"It's just my saviour. I love Johnny dearly, I absolutely love him, but by goodness do I love being away from him," Mr Robinson said.

"Without [a yearly holiday] I don't think I could cope, I really couldn't. At the moment he's going through a bad patch as he does, his schizophrenia flares up and you just have to be patient and understanding, and I tell you what that's not always easy."

He said he chose cheap countries to visit, such as Vietnam, on purpose: "We could live there for less than what we could live for in New Zealand."

'Treat people like humans' - Labour

Minister for Social Development and Acting Minister for Disability Issues Anne Tolley declined to be interviewed.

In a written statement, MSD said it did not have the power to apply discretion.

"In some instances, a person with an essential need to travel will not have their benefit being affected, such as travelling to be with a seriously ill family member, or to attend a funeral.

"Travelling for a general holiday is not an approved reason for paying a benefit for more than 28 days in a 52-week period."

Labour disability issues spokesperson Poto Williams said MSD should not be so blunt.

"It would've been easy to just apply a bit of discretion and say, 'Hey look, in this case it's nothing intentional, this family is not trying to rort the system, they're just trying to get some time out so they can rest and recover.'"

Ms Williams said Mr Robinson should have been given a one-time exception.

"It would've been so much simpler to actually take a more human approach and actually treat people like humans."

Since Checkpoint with John Campbell aired this story, a listener has gifted $1000 to Cliff Robinson.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs