From the April 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
I just have to share this. I’m sure the situation is the same in every country suffering under capitalism.
I am a pensioner and, because I had a major back injury some years ago, I am eligible for a few extra dollars on top of my pension as a disability allowance. This, of course, is means tested. I have to supply the government with receipts for gardening, electricity bills, doctor’s bills, prescription receipts, etc. The extra few dollars they throw my way enables me to pay someone to mow my lawn. Okay, that sounds fair enough. This hasn’t been updated for several years so I was not surprised when the Department of Work and Income wrote to me asking me to supply receipts for my expenses over the past year. What did surprise me was that there were no contact details on their letter, other than an 0800 number. There was no physical address, no P.O. Box number, no telephone number.
I have had past experience of using an 0800 number for this Government Department and I don’t ever want to do so again. What happens is, you end up holding on to the telephone for up to an hour listening to pre-recorded music (their choice of which is rank!) and when the call is eventually answered I found myself talking to some clown in a call centre in a different city, 300 kilometers away, who was unable to help with my enquiry.
Okay, so I photocopied all my receipts for them and then got on the Internet to try to find out where to post them. The letter they sent me had been posted in a small town in the South Island, but no address was given. I live in the capital city. Don’t they have an office in the capital city? Right, well, the Internet provided me with a post box number for their office in the small country town in the south island, so I posted the receipts there.
Having done that I thought the next step would be to write a letter to the cabinet minister and complain about the lack of contact details on their letterhead. The Department of Work and Income is a Government Department, so you would expect that there should be a Minister of Work and Income, right? Wrong! She hides under the title of Minister for Social Development! Okay, so the Internet should provide me with the name of the Minister for Social Development, right? Wrong! The name they provide is that of the previous Minister who lost her job 5 months previously when the government changed from National to Labour in the last elections. It seems that it takes them an awfully long time to update their website! (They have updated it now!) Okay, sit tight and wait for a reply. Ha-bloody-ha!
Eventually I got another letter from Work & Income, but from a different writer than on the previous correspondence. I was expecting to hear that my disability allowance would be increased by a few dollars since my expenses had increased considerably. But, No! The letter informed me that my allowance would stay the same and that if I wished to question this I should contact the writer at the address given on the back of the letter. I turned the letter over and it was completely blank! Surprise, surprise! They must have written it in invisible ink!
My next step was to make an appointment to see my MP. Well, not exactly the man himself as he is a busy man, but his secretary who runs his office in town. Hooray, at last, a helpful human being. I went along to see her taking all the correspondence with me. I asked whether my MP could do something about making Work and Income more accessible to the public. After all, being a Labour MP, he should now have a bit more clout than he did with the previous government. She explained that there was little he could do and went on to say that the reason we have so many beggars on the streets now is because the government is trying to make it impossible for people to apply for any kind of benefit. Most people get sick and tired of trying to get government assistance that they just give up trying.
I asked her where the Wellington branch of Work and Income is now situated because it had moved from the building it was in a few years ago. She said that they still have a branch in the city, and actually told me what street it was on, but advised me not to go there because they have two security guards on the door and no one can get in unless they have an appointment. Of course, it is impossible to get an appointment because they don’t advertise their phone number. Of course, all the money they save from not paying benefits is spent on employing more paper-shufflers and security guards.
Isn’t Capitalism wonderful!
(World Socialist Party, NZ)