I was told it would be painless.
You were twenty minutes late, and didn’t apologize.
All around me I had seen people be picked up by their case managers, and all who were more than five minutes late apologized profusely. Except for you. You said “Oh, you’re all alone!”
I was. I had spent the past five minutes panicking that I didn’t have an appointment, that everything had been a mistake, and that I was going to have to wait another two weeks to be paid any attention to. I was obviously sick and tired.
You took me back to your desk. You knew it was my first time, because I wasn’t in your system, even if it wasn’t obvious from the plastic bag of papers that I scrabbled through to try and find the bits and pieces that you needed. I told you that I’d had a job interview the day before, and had a promising phone call later. I told you that I’d just finished my degree and was biding time before my Ph.D. You knew what my situation was – not the Scum Of The Earth but rather a Promising Young Lady who had found herself between jobs.
So why did you treat me like I was Scum Of The Earth? You were more than aware that I had never received a benefit before. Your attitude was aggressive from the start, and I know for a fact that my personality is sweet and forthcoming, even when coughing and blowing my nose. After I’d got a bit more short with my answers, you lectured me on being grumpy. I was about to cry.
You asked me about the last jobs I had. I worked for a week in January – “five days” you corrected me. It didn’t pass me by that each time you mentioned it, the number decreased. It became my “four days” of work, and then my “three days”. I corrected you back to five days. You pursed your lips, then looked at my other work – “finishing in June”.
The way you said “June” makes me wonder what the month of June did to you.
At this point you were aware that I came from a background of means, so now you knew that not only was I in an unfamiliar situation, it was an unfamiliar situation that I had never, ever considered might apply to me. I was mostly thinking about how if you had treated anyone the way you were treating me in any other customer service role, you would probably be sitting where I was now.
The way you treated me was one of the most disrespectful experiences of my life.
While you were scanning things, I started crying. It was stressful, I was sick, and despite the signs at the door and the good interior design of the space we were in, I wasn’t being treated with respect or dignity. The woman who shared a desk with you gave me an empathetic smile and pointed the tissues out to me.
You came back, and took five minutes before you even noticed there were tears streaming down my face. As I explained how I was sick and tired and I had been trying and I was just going through the motions I wasn’t grumpy I was upset you told me that you weren’t a mindreader. I didn’t expect you to be. I expected you to treat me like a human.
My issue isn’t that I burst into tears, it’s that I had to burst into tears before you treated me like I was real. Suddenly you were interacting with me like I was a human rather than an animal that had just defecated on the carpet.
You needed proof that I was real, to which I offered my Justice of the Peace certified birth certificate, or suggested that I had my passport. Apparently you need to see my real birth certificate, because of benefit fraud. The government, you told me, was cross-checking birth certificates with birth registers. I didn’t say anything, but I really want to know what difference it might make to real/certified certificates when it comes to checking the register.
As it turns out, the difference is about a minute more of crying. If I had had access to my birth certificate, you would have made me wait more than a week to meet with you again and prove myself (a week without any income). Being visibly upset meant…
Wait, hold on. That’s not how any situation should work. (you told me that you only accepted certain Justices of the Peace, which made me wonder – do you not accept JPs that have been nominated by the wrong neighbourhoods? Or school teachers? What might a JP do that would cause Work and Income New Zealand to deny their existence?)
I had to correct my online application. You seemed inordinately bothered that my bank balance was different between my online application and my bank print-out. Perhaps if I had not had to wait two weeks after completing the online application, they would have been more similar. I also had to declare that I had no essential costs, and as I know this is not your fault, I pose the question to WINZ: why are food and power not essential costs? Could the Human Resources Centre maybe look into how essential they are for you?
You then told me I had done my CV wrong, and that it was too academic. I told you I was looking for academic jobs, and mentioned my job interview yesterday again. You scoffed, and told me to re-write it for a factory job.
(I was not prepared to explain to you that because academic jobs pay decently, I would pay back my own benefit much more swiftly than if I just got any job. I was unsure if I could formulate that into words that wouldn’t cause you to lecture me. I was crying quite a bit.)
Perhaps if I had been on the benefit already, perhaps if I had spent some time fruitlessly searching for jobs, that advice would have been pertinent. As it stood, I had started this session telling you about my incredibly positive job interview. Did I do my CV wrong? Are you sure?
I understand the logic of making applying for the benefit this horrible, grueling process. But if this is the way the government saves money, then I really hope that it’s just as awful to try and get superannuation. Actually, if this is the way the government saves money, why doesn’t it just punch me in the stomach and take my money? It would have taken less time, and I would have been less upset.
At the seminar, I was told that benefit fraud was the reason for national debt, but I was also told that you would have been gentler with me because I was a recent graduate. It is disappointing to find that even the nice things weren’t true.