WINZ slammed for treatment of pregnant woman living in car

Heath Moore, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Friday, 13 July 2018, 10:50a.m.

A Work and Income employee has been described as "inhumane" after they allegedly turned away a pregnant mother living in her car.

According to a worker who supports parents and children in Gisborne, a woman who is 30 weeks pregnant was denied accommodation on July 11 despite the fact there was a room available for her.

Ngapaki Moetara took to social media to highlight how poorly the mother was treated while in Work and Income, saying "we're completely disconnected".

"I'm sitting at Gisborne WINZ with a 30-week hapu [pregnant] mum who slept in her car last night. We are here for emergency housing and were just approached very unkindly by a worker here claiming she has to send her away.

"It's cold out there and all the worker said to her after her second time going in was not to get upset because she started to cry when she was told that they were just going to send her back up the coast where she came from.

"We just found out there is room in one place and they are saying there is not. The approach was terrible. Our mum is now crying. Come on how can this be acceptable?

"The way she was spoken to I don't think we really realise just how inhumane it can be.

"But the way she was spoken to was a real example of how disconnected we've become."

The Ministry of Social Development has responded to Moetara's plea, apologising for the pregnant mother's experience while visiting Work and Income.

East Coast Regional Director for the Ministry of Social Development, Naomi Whitewood told the Herald they are working hard to provide a top service for those in need and have since spoken to Moetara about the incident.

"I'm sorry Ngapaki felt the way she did. This isn't the service we strive to provide. I appreciated the time Ngapaki took to whakaaro with me today [12 July 2018]. We don't want anyone to leave our offices feeling like Ngapaki did and it's extremely important whānau feel they're being treated in the right way. Our people are working hard to do our best for our whānau and I'm here to support us all in being able to achieve that.

"We're working hard to ensure our clients get consistently good service and most of the time we get it right. Where we don't get it right, we are committed to putting it right."

While Moetara understands help is not always available from Work and Income and other government organisations, the least she expects is compassion from WINZ employees and for those seeking help not to be looked down upon.

She says that attitudes have to change and has called on Work and Income and Oranga Tamariki to be open to training in engagement.

"I'm crying because I'm sad and frustrated with the way that people can think they can talk to a young mother, a young Māori mother from the East Coast who is looking for help.

"I just wanted to share what goes on because I don't think anyone gives it a voice what it's like. There's so much shame attached to going into WINZ. And that's how they're being spoken to.

"She started to get upset, the worker just said 'don't get upset. There's no need to be upset.' She's got nowhere to go! Her benefit is $226 a week. And that's just normal for her.

"I want a voice to go out on behalf of her and others. I know there's a housing crisis, I know there's poverty and homelessness, but at the very least, the way that our whanau get spoken to needs to change.

"It needs to be rectified. It's not good enough to talk to her like that and speak to her like that. I was shocked, I didn't expect for her to get housing or any type of physical help but I expect at least a humane exchange. She was spoken down to."

Moetara's plea on social media appears to have worked with the Ministry of Social Development committing to work with Moetara and the mother to come up with an appropriate solution.

Whitewood said that no-one should have to sleep in their car and urged those in need to reach out for help.

"We're continuing to work with Ngapaki and the mama she's advocating for to ensure we're providing them with the support they need.

"We do want our whānau to know that no-one should have to sleep in their car and no one in need of housing should go unsupported this winter. Please get in touch with us by giving us call through Work and Income to talk more."

Thousands of Kiwis have since spoken out following the alleged treatment of the pregnant mother, with many thanking Moetara and others questioning Work and Income's initial attitude.

"They need a shakeup on their train which is obviously lacking in this system. They need cultural sensitivity and awareness training and also downright plain manners. Also, the actual whole system needs an overhaul. Absolutely disgusting treatment in this situation," one person wrote.

Another said: "New Zealand has changed a lot - from the cities all the way into the countryside. It's sad that we are now seeing homelessness on a level that we have never seen before within our own country. Something needs to change soon."

"I feel for that young mum, I've been there. There really is a shame stigma attached to going into WINZ. But if you have to then you have to. What they don't get at times even if their trying to help you is that you probably can't go back where you left because it's too damn dangerous for you, hence the reason you left. I'm speaking from experience," one woman stated.

Others took to social media to thank the Ministry of Social Development for their important response.

"Great message, Naomi. You've got a great team of people in the East Coast," one person wrote.

Another said: "Despite the initial experience the poor mama had it's great to know they're trying to do the right thing by her. Hopefully she'll be homed now!"

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