Why do bu­reau­crats tor­ment the needy?

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

What is it about bureau­cracy, par­tic­u­larly in gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, which turns an ap­par­ently nor­mal hu­man be­ing into a tyrant?

This is es­pe­cially no­tice­able when the said gov­ern­ment de­part­ment is sup­posed to be help­ing those in need to cope with their cir­cum­stances.

So of­ten those on the front line of dis­pens­ing such help have them­selves been in the po­si­tion of hav­ing to ask for it at some time in their lives. You would think this cir­cum­stance would make them more tol­er­ant and un­der­stand­ing of their clients but this is not al­ways the case.

Three gov­ern­ment agen­cies im­me­di­ately spring to mind: WINZ, Hous­ing NZ and ACC. Many of us have had less than op­ti­mal ex­pe­ri­ences with one, or even all, of th­ese de­part­ments and have been on the re­ceiv­ing end of com­ments and ac­tions which be­lit­tle us or make us feel as though we have no right to the ser­vice we are re­quest­ing.

WINZ is a prime ex­am­ple. Many of its front line staff have been ben­e­fi­cia­ries them­selves but you wouldn’t know it by the at­ti­tude shown to those lin­ing up for sur­vival funds.

Let me say here that in the Porirua of­fice, this at­ti­tude has markedly changed for the bet­ter since my first con­tact with it in 2001.

Back in those days, I had to leave work to look af­ter my hus­band who had re­tired sick. Be­cause nei­ther of us was then 65, we had to go through the mill of ask­ing for help. We were given the dis­tinct im­pres­sion that we had no right to be ask­ing – af­ter all, we were white mid­dle- class peo­ple who had had it easy all our lives, hadn’t we?

It was a hu­mil­i­at­ing and painful ex­pe­ri­ence, to say the least.

Some years later when I had to go to the of­fice, how­ever, I met a com­pas­sion­ate man who gave me ev­ery bit of help I needed without mak­ing me feel I was try­ing to rip the out­fit off. The ti­tle of tyrant ob­vi­ously does not fit all of­fi­cials and is cer­tainly less de­served in our lo­cal of­fice th­ese days.

Hous­ing NZ and ACC are both guilty of mak­ing ar­bi­trary de­ci­sions, then in­form­ing the client of th­ese without any prior dis­cus­sion.

For in­stance, I know of cases where both of th­ese de­part­ments have de­cided, ap­par­ently without check­ing with any­one, that clients are earn­ing money when they are not and rais­ing rents/levies ac­cord­ingly, of­ten to the ex­treme dis­tress of peo­ple who are try­ing des­per­ately to make ends meet.

Re­ally, what right have of­fi­cials in gov­ern­ment de­part­ments or agen­cies to make as­sump­tions about clients without dis­cus­sion with the rel­e­vant party? And what right have they to make the clients feel like trash if they dare to ques­tion the de­ci­sion or stand up for their rights?

In our profit- ori­ented so­ci­ety, those in need are be­com­ing more and more marginalised and the at­ti­tudes of peo­ple be­hind desks in the so-called ‘‘wel­fare’’ agen­cies do not help. Where has re­spect for the in­di­vid­ual per­son gone, I won­der?

This month, we tackle a topic which is of in­ter­est to any­one who draws su­per­an­nu­a­tion – namely, the amount of tax taken off it. Those who think su­per­an­nu­i­tants have it easy need to come along and hear the truth.

Tues­day, July 10, 1.30pm, The Porirua Club, Lodge Place, Porirua. Con­tact: He­len Grif­fith Ph 236 0112

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