Being on the dole

A reader has sent in this guest post about their experiences of being on the dole and with :

I became unemployed in 2009. It was my choice, and it was a bad choice. I was hoping to move jobs and thanks to the recession, both my plan a and backup plan fell over. After 6 months of living off savings and some Working for Families money, I applied for the dole.

I generally found WINZ to be really helpful and some people I worked with really bent over backwards for me, even when I wasn’t worried about things. Pretty much every case worker sympathized at the lack of jobs, and acknowledged that there really wasn’t much that I could do.

However when I had to renew my dole after the 1 year mark I ran into some issues. I had taken myself off the dole over the summer while I tried to build up a small business I had started. I actually was told I should not be trying to create a business but should be looking for work. As a result of my initiative and in spite of having 3 interviews in the previous few weeks as well as me delaying my reapplication and actually going without income for several days on the hope that I would not have to reapply*, the Case worker decided I was a proud, lazy bludger and cast around for suitable torture. Having discovered that I was ineligible for one course due to actually having been a productive member of society(!), I was enrolled in a “course” for work seekers that turned out afterwards to be a weekly, early-morning commitment.

Well, I turned up every week. Typically, about 6 people who were supposed to did not. They started the process of being kicked off the benefit. Many who did show up didn’t have a CV, including one fellow who had been “looking for work” for over a year. We were told one week that the WINZ staff at that office had been calling people up, and almost no one had been answering their cell phones. The point was well made – would you get a job if an employer rang?

As for the course, it consisted of

A warning about what would happen if we didn’t show up for the course.
Looking through the WINZ web site for jobs that might possibly be suitable

As an experienced professional who’d found several jobs without any help from WINZ, and had a WINZ work broker wonder in amazement that I hadn’t found employment, it was humiliating. There were of course no jobs on offer for my skill set. But I did apply for several more basic jobs and got one interview. It did make me think about what I had to do to get a job, and made it clear that sitting on my bum was unacceptable.

Because, see that’s the thing. When there’s no sales being made on trademe, and there’s no interviews in sight, and the business that’s looking for a hundred non-skilled workers doesn’t even bother to reply to your application, you start to get depressed. And yet the dole payments, the working for families tax credits keep rolling in. That combination of discouragements and easy money is corrosive. I was actually better off unemployed financially than I had ever been for many years employed – and with hours of free time to boot. I would have been a fool if I hadn’t seriously considered making it a long term lifestyle.

In the end, I got a job by looking in other places. We moved city. It was a massive upheaval and traumatic for my family, but I am now a productive member of society.

One thing that helped the transition was the IWTC. Because of that extra income our Working for Families doesn’t drop and helps fund my travel to work and other extra costs. I can’t believe anyone would want to give that bonus money to people who don’t work – if you’re not leaving the house your costs are much, much lower.

I was out of work for almost 2 years. Yes, there are few jobs. But forcing people to get out and look is a good thing. Making them re-apply for the dole is a good thing. Forcing them to regular courses is a good thing (how on earth will someone who can’t get out of bed once a week get out of bed every day for a job?). Giving people a  financial incentive to work is a good thing.

As Labour says, there are people on the benefit who want to get out and work. No one doubts that. But there are also a large number who find it easier to sit at home and collect free money from the government. Society pays people the dole on the condition that they are looking for work, and I find it extraordinary that the measly token gestures such as the National party have made are so vigorously decryed by those who “support” people like me – long term unemployed. Instead of supporting them, they merely make the issue worse.

What would I do?

  • I would reduce (yes, reduce) the amount of working for families paid to beneficiaries and increase accommodation payments. It was my observation that payments are actually quite generous for people with no accommodation costs, but in places like Auckland those costs are crippling.
  • I would have people required to behave much more like they are in work. Many people are simply not employable because they have habits that are simply not compatible with being employable. Having them turning up *every* day for courses or sign-ins at normal work hours would be a minimum. Actually getting together people with complementary skills and seeing what they can produce. Encouraging out-of-the-box solutions.
  • At worst, I would like to see WINZ have work available that pays that anyone can just walk into off the street if they’re prepared to do it. Frankly there were times when I’d have quite happily shoveled manure all day and back again if I’d earned a dollar for it, just so I could be counted as working. I’m not talking work-for-the-dole here, I’m talking work for a little more pay than the dole, as a morale booster.

* My wife was castigated by another staff member for my recklessness when she visited the office for another matter. She was almost reduced to tears in fact. Which makes what happened even all the more bizarre.

Always great to have a first hand perspective.

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