I want to clarify something before we start: I don’t believe I should be entitled to anything. I know there are people far worse off than me and I have nothing but respect for them. The everyday stress of being on a limited income is awful no matter your circumstances. I’m not trying to compete with anyone. I simply wanted to share my story. I believe by sharing stories we learn of perspectives different to our own.
There are holes in our safety nets. They’re shaped like educated, accomplished people who fall on hard times. They’re shaped like designers, writers, creative professionals who are too experienced for retail work. They’re shaped like people in loving and supportive relationships whose partners have worked hard to earn above minimum wage. They’re shaped like people with mental illnesses who need a little bit of wiggle room in their working lives.
I am not all of these things. But the holes in the net are still shaped like me.
Two months ago my role was made redundant and I found myself without work three weeks before Christmas. Christmas is expensive. My partner and I had just returned from a big overseas trip and we had credit cards to pay off. We had presents to buy. We had families to journey to see. And we were down to one income.
I contacted WINZ to seek support for the time over the holidays where companies would not be recruiting. I knew I could get a role. I knew I was hireable. But people had to be hiring. I was advised that because I was in a relationship with someone who earned more than $40,000 – $50,000 per annum I was ineligible for even a dollar of financial support.
Looking online and finding no further explanation for how we were deemed “in a relationship” (turns out MSD don’t use de facto status for their definition) or why I should fall through the cracks I emailed the Minister for Social Development, Hon. Anne Tolley. I told my story and asked a couple of simple questions: Why wasn’t I eligible? What could I do? My email was passed to the CEO of Work and Income and from there presumably to an employment coordinator who called me earlier this week.
The coordinator I’ve dealt with at WINZ has been nothing but encouraging and supportive. She showed me all the tools they have to help job seekers, most of which are of no help to me as I am too qualified* for the roles they promote. She talked me through any other options I may have and where I could find additional resources. She commended me on all the efforts I am making (“you’re doing everything right”) and told me she felt for me. But she couldn’t help me.
I have never begrudged paying taxes, no matter the bracket they fell in. I have always known that the money the government takes from my salary goes to people who need it. To healthcare. To education. To policing. To social development services. I have long been a passionate advocate of our social system, insisting to any who criticise it that we need social support. We need to stop people falling through the cracks. We need a safety net.
And yet here I am, falling as I gaze up at a net I thought would catch me.
*Edit: I’ve received some wonderful constructive feedback on this and need to clarify my statement about “over qualification” for the jobs WINZ have listed. The jobs they predominantly have on their books right now are bus drivers, baristas, fry cooks, builders, etc. I do not think I am too good for these. Some I am unqualified for; some I have applied for already (cafe and retails jobs). However, many employers seem to deem me a flight risk due to my substantial white collar experience. WINZ also expressed the view they would not put me forward for these roles for similar reasons. Their interest lies in getting me into a role I am qualified for and in some way passionate about. For me, this means a waiting game while the roles I have applied for (nearly 50 to date) close and begin interviews.