"I don’t use my oven" - Life without a liveable income
Below is a small selection of insights from people receiving benefits in the new report: Income Support in the wake of COVID-19: the Interviews by Associate Professor Louise Humpage and Charlotte Moore. Together they starkly portray how inadequate income support and insensitive Work & Income dealings leave families and whānau with hopelessness, stress, mental distress and physical hunger.
In answer to: can you survive on your benefit?
I guess … [pause] if nothing happens …. like, If no one has birthdays and there’s no Christmas and there’s no change of season when my kids are growing out of the clothes and things like that.
Like [if] everything stayed static, maybe …. but [in] life, that doesn’t happen.
And even when you try and put money aside, you end up having to eat into it …. you’re not actually living life.
- Maria, 2 children at home, family receiving Sole Parent Support
In answer to: Do you ever go without food yourself?
Quite often. …I had to make [one food parcel] stretch over a month …. [my child] only missed two days of eating before we got that food parcel ….
He still can’t eat half of the food that’s in that parcel anyway [because of diet-related health issues] or we’ll end up in hospital ….
You’re stressing every day, making sure he’s trying to get fed but everyone’s saying ‘you gotta worry about yourself’; [my response is:] I can’t feed myself, alright, I’ll worry about myself another day.
- Faith, 1 child at home, family receiving Sole Parent Support
Yeah it’s hopelessness …you don’t sleep, you know, because you’re too busy worrying about what your kids are going to eat the next day….
so yeah, my mental health has declined over the years, If I’ve had to deal with my children — you know, self-harm or the police or the school — then yeah, then money worries just add on top of that.
So I have had to take anti-depressants over the years just to cope and get by.
- Ngaire, three children at home, family receiving Sole Parent Support
Re April 2020: benefits increase by $25 (before clawbacks) during the first lockdown
[The benefit increase was] like being in an abusive relationship where your partner cheats on you consistently and then buys you a box of chocolates from time to time to make up for it [laughs]…
I’ve probably never felt quite as stressed as I did at that time — even when we were visiting foodbanks — because there was nothing there in budget [food lines]. Literally nothing.
You’d go in and, you know, where you’d be used to buying a 70c tin of baked beans from [the supermarket], the cheapest ones were three times that price.
There were no specials on in the beginning of lockdown.
- Ryan, three children at home, Supported Living Payment-Carer
I just sit in the dark …. over wintertime …. I’ve got draft stoppers …. I’ve got sheets as lining on the curtains. I go to bed, and I sit in the dark, and I watch TV in bed, you know …. I don’t use my oven …. if I use it, I can watch on the app, my power goes ka-ching like that, so I don’t actually use my oven anymore, to keep my power down. Yeah so, I don’t probably eat as well as I should because it’s a lot of toast and stuff, you know. But you just find a way to make it work.
- Nina, Supported Living Payment
The first meeting I ever had with [Work and Income], which was when Women’s Refuge went into the office with me and we were explaining why I was applying for it. It was difficult for me to talk then because it was really a stressful time. But I remember even through that, sitting there and feeling like the worst human in the world for applying for it, and the lack of empathy from the woman who was doing the paperwork was unbelievable …. I was shocked …. that, firstly, someone would be treated that way when they’re doing the right thing, which is leaving domestic violence for the sake of your kids and consistent with all the public messaging around that. To then be treated like I was some sort of loser …. And then secondly, just the general treatment that you would just treat a person in a vulnerable situation in that way. And, I guess coming from never having been on a benefit before, it was a real eye opener for me that people were being treated like this every day.
- Maria, 2 children at home, receiving Sole Parent Support
You know, I rang up for a food grant once, and the first thing [the case manager] said to me was ‘have you asked your parents?’ And I just straight away went ‘my parents are dead’. She didn’t even skip a beat, she didn’t even say ‘I’m sorry’ or anything. She just said ‘well, what about other relatives?’ And I said ‘I haven’t got any other relatives’ and she said ‘have you got children? Ask your children.’ I said ‘I’m not gonna ask my children for food.’ She said ‘what about your friends?’ I said ‘they’ve gotta feed their own kids.’ You know, for 50 dollars, for 50 fucking dollars, you know? …. I’d rather not go there [crying] …. I find it offensive that as …. a 55-year old ringing up for a food grant, that I’m supposedly entitled to, that … some staff member somewhere says to me ‘have you asked your parents?’ … they say everything is income …. they ask you if you’ve been given food assistance from your family. You know, ‘has your mother dropped off a leg of lamb to you?’ Well …. that’s actually income …. It’s a state of fear. You go to the doctor to get extra drugs just so you can go to [Work and Income].
- Nina, Supported Living Payment
Read the report here