Monday, March 17, 2014

dealing with bureacracy

Having spent last year avoiding the necessity for State benefits through some very careful budgeting, this year wasn't looking so promising. To start with I didn't have the same sized financial cushion I started last year with having spent about half of my redundancy money getting through the year with little regular employment. Then of course I got sick, which when you rely on casual work to top up your regular pitifully small income ($15 a week less than I pay in board and lodging, in case anyone thinks I'm exaggerating) kind of stuffs things up. At least the regular work I do have is in my own home, can be done in my pyjamas, and when need be I can head straight back to bed afterwards.

So my GP decided I needed to be getting some financial help, filled out the medical forms and sent me off with 'you will be making an appointment today, won't you?' So I dutifully rang the helpline, got them to send me the form and made an appointment, knowing full well I'd hear all about it if I didn't. Sometimes being a family friend of your GP can be a mixed blessing!

Well filling in the form was exhausting in itself, and was promptly followed by a two hour sleep. Luckily I have internet access at home, online banking and emailed payslips so could track down all the relevant information without too much difficulty, even double checking against my IRD (tax) online account. It is no wonder people often need help with or stuff up applications. As I filled it in I remembered meeting Elspeth in a cafe in Huddersfield to fill in my form for signing-on over the university summer break, back in the days when you still could - was it a B some-number-or-other form? She and Ben had run an interest group at Yorkshire Friends Holiday School that year on how to fill in benefit forms, such was the height of unemployment at the time (late '80s). My biggest struggle this time however was managing to think straight and do the addition required whilst dosed up on painkillers.

Coping with the actual appointment at WINZ was a much bigger challenge than I expected. I knew I was struggling to think straight, but still somehow I expected to be able to manage. Well I did, sort of, in that I got the benefit approved, backdated and in my bank account by the next morning. But what I was told and quite how things stand didn't really match up and I was too muzzy headed to pick up on this, even though I knew I had read all the stuff (albeit with a stonking headache and dosed up on painkillers...) which told me quite clearly that what they were saying wasn't really the case.

It was a friend on facebook who pointed out the discrepancy and offered to ask around folks she knew if there was an advocate in the area who could help. At which point I realised that I could, well should, have asked if someone from the Kaitaia Peoples' Centre could come and be an advocate for me. However had I been thinking straight enough to do that I would probably have been thinking straight enough to know that I'd read something different on their forms to what they had told me! It reminded me of carrying Rescue Remedy everywhere and seldom thinking to use it myself when I need it, only dispensing it to others I can see are in need, as when I need it myself I'm usually in no fit state to recognise it!

This whole experience, from hospitalisation, to discharge, to dealing with life afterwards has made me realise that there must be many who don't get the help they need because they don't know it is there or how to get it, or for whom it simply falls into the too hard basket to deal with. Our benefits system is geared towards minimising the number of claimants rather than helping people get everything they are entitled to. Yet again the concept of a universal basic income stands out to me as a means of ensuring people don't fall through the net. I'm lucky in that I know I'll still have somewhere to live regardless of what happens, if my board money is late well as long as it is paid eventually that is okay. Many others are not so fortunate and the stress of keeping a roof over ones head and food in the pantry when you are least able to manage it surely hinders recovery. It isn't like you get discharged from hospital with an information pack explaining what you might be entitled to, how to get it and what to do about any follow-up treatment or referrals that may be required, somehow you are expected to figure this out for yourself at a time when you're probably least capable of doing so.

I'm not yet sure what to do with all this going round in my head. I've only just reached the point where thinking coherently for any length of time has been possible. But it is something I don't want to forget about, maybe one day I'll be able to help someone else through the maze and give them the help I obviously needed, even if I couldn't see that at first.

No comments: