Dear Hon Paula Bennett,

I am a single mum to Hannah and I was previously on the Domestic Purposes Benefit; from 2004 when my daughter was born to the start of 2008 I relied on money from the government to fund my lifestyle. I fell pregnant while I was in the midst of my degree and continued to study while I was pregnant, extramurally from Massey University. At the start of 2006, I moved to Wellington to finish my degree. The move increased my living costs significantly but I felt it necessary to achieve the goals I had in mind, namely, to get good grades in my degree, gain independence, and move into the workforce.

Before I moved from Rotorua, I researched my options as far as funding my study went (I had a 3 semesters left to finish my Bachelor of Arts majoring in Political Science and Religious Studies) and discovered I was eligible for the Training Incentive Allowance (TIA). The TIA in no way covered my fees for those papers. I still had to get a student loan for that but I did manage to keep my student loan as low as possible so that when I finally did graduate, I wasn’t loaded with a giant debt (well… it’s still around $30,000 so is a pretty damn giant debt… but less than some others came out with). This was important as I have to make a few concessions with my work, I need flexible hours and a child friendly workplace as I can’t just magic the kid away when I need to go out and earn money. I’d like to say that flexible hours and a child friendly workplace wouldn’t affect my income, but in reality, it probably has.

So, when I moved to Wellington and was applying for the TIA, my case manager talked to me about how I could split up the TIA to cover the extra costs associated with studying such as travel and childcare and the fact that my damn childcare centre only used disposables [Please don’t get me started on the fact that WINZ doesn’t regard modern cloth nappies as an item that is eligible under their grant scheme]. I used some of the TIA grant to go on my fees (as mentioned above) and some to cover my childcare costs (I think it was around $70 per week) and also some toward travel ($20 per week? I lived close enough to walk to Uni but it was up a bit f’off hill and when it was raining it wasn’t exactly pleasant to trek the kid up and so I had a car which I had to pay around $30 per week for parking at my hall).

It felt like a lot of money at the time. Especially coming from the measly amount you get for living costs from a student loan. So yeah, I was getting enough to live on for sure. But then my car died. And I bought a new [old] one. So I got an overdraft… which was fine as it was interest free because I was a student. I knew that I’d get a job at some point (because I’d have a degree!) and that I’d be able to pay it back. That has just happened recently. If I hadn’t got a decent job then errrrr… I probably would have been quite screwed to be honest.

So I finished my degree with the aid of the TIA. And then I completed two more years of study to do my honours degree without the aid of the TIA, but that was of less impact to my situation as by then the 20 free hours for 3 and 4 year olds had come in so my childcare costs lessened significantly. I also moved out of the student hall I was living in (again necessary for creating a support network in Wellington and interesting regarding my latest study in human development which says it was incredibly important for Hannah) and out to a place where I didn’t have to pay for parking. Essentially my travel costs increased but I was able to handle that as I also took up a job working 8 hours per week. I guess my point is that I wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree without the TIA. Or I could have, but I would have REALLY struggled and that would have affected my grades which in turn would have affected my ability to get a job or even could have resulted in a longer stay at university which would have cost the state even more!

So yeah, I am grateful, so grateful, that I was able to access this support in having Hannah. It wasn’t an ideal situation, and I know that is my problem and mine only, but I feel strongly about social support for those in need. And I was very much in need.

Now, while still receiving some government support (thanks WFF!), I feel awesome being able to earn and look after my kidlet myself. I really don’t think I would be in this position without the assistance of the government and probably the Training Incentive Allowance. I really feel for the people who will no longer be eligible for the TIA and who are in a position similar to mine. (Not that my situation is more deserving than others but I am trying to give a situation which I’m sure policy advisors wouldn’t be able to comprehend [no offence to policy peeps]). It will undoubtedly have a massive impact on them. If you hadn’t picked up already, I disagree strongly with changing the conditions around eligibility for the TIA.

Kind regards, Nikki

P.S. I think you are a real wench for publishing those women’s details and I do not in any way shape or form imply consent for you to reveal mine. K Thx.


18 thoughts on “Dear Hon Paula Bennett,

  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing your story. I think it's so terrible that the actual issue these women were talking about has been completely overshadowed by what Bennett has done. She obviously wanted it to be overshadowed and her plan worked.

    All the beneficiary bashing that has come from those women speaking out is really upsetting. Because I can't see how anyone can be against helping solo mothers get jobs and an education.


  2. Nice work Nikki!
    And as for PB…don't get me started. I am HORRIFIED that if I have an opinion that I would like to voice I have to be prepared, if someone in a (elected!) position of power and knowledge doesn't like it, to have my personal private details broadcast (if this applies to state funded/subsidised service this could also include my medical history!!!). PB totally overstepped the mark and ABUSED her position. She should be held to account.
    I thought I lived in a democracy that allowed people the right to their opinion and the right to speak freely on that opinion – obviously not. I am ashamed!
    (Note: PB, do not take this as permission to snoop on me either!)


  3. The two women publicly complained, so in other words, they were taking their case to the public.

    “Ms Johnston's complaint, as outlined originally in the Herald on Sunday, is that restriction of the allowance to study at NCEA level 3 or under means she may not now be able to embark on a nursing degree. Another solo mother, Natasha Fuller, echoed her sentiment about domestic purposes beneficiaries being locked out of prospective careers because they no longer had the financial means to enrol at universities or polytechnics.”

    Because they have appealed their case to the public, the public has the right to know the whole truth, don't you think?


  4. Dear Anonymous,

    A point was made on the parenting forum linked in a comment above which mentioned while the benefit details of the women were published, it failed to provide any context or break down or reasoning behind it. I don't think it was helpful at all as it just served to cloud the issue.

    In my instance, you could argue that my move to Wellington increased the burden to the taxpayer as then I became eligible for the accommodation allowance which was around $100 per week. I mentioned my reasoning above, that it was a decision I based on Hannah's development and my grades/degree/potential to get a job.

    Get me? So I don't think it's helpful that now everyone is outraged because a woman (with a sick child?) gets around $700 per week.

    And the alternative, maybe to ASK THE WOMEN for permission…? may have been a better idea.

    P.S. I wasn't really planning on debating the privacy thing. I want people to remain focussed on the Training Incentive Allowance. Thanks.


  5. thanks nikki! it just makes NO sense to me to be taking action reducing peoples chances of studying..?! we're in a recession, lots of people are out of work & on various benefits, the govt should be *encouraging* people to start studying! rather than have people sitting on an unemployment benefit looking for jobs that just aren't there right now, wouldn't it be better to have people who are willing switched onto student allowances/TIA & beneficially employed (ha puns.)gaining new skills, thus giving them a broader scope for job-seeking once jobs start becoming more readily available?!? This recession could be looked upon as a prime opportunity to “up-skill” our workforce! 😀

    (as for the “Hon. Paula Bennett”.. yeah, it was legal maybe, honourable no. Try living up to your title m'dear.)


  6. May be I was just bitter and envious to the beneficiaries who can get $715/week after tax from government. (Ms Fuller even got money to start a business!).

    I have never asked for help from WINZ, but may be I'm a fool to try to better my family through working hard?

    I'm a self employed and at the moment I only earn about $600/week BEFORE tax.


  7. Well done Nikki

    I wouldn't concern yourself with anon comments – people need to get over themselves and if they have something to add to an argument, then they should do without the mask on.

    I dont love that a beneficiary earns almost as much as I do, and I have spent about 8y studying and 10y working professionally, but you know – people need help, and thats why I choose to live in a country with an adequate social welfare system.

    I mean really – would you want to be on the streets with a kid?


  8. training & education doesn't make a difference to one person – it changes families and lives long term – we should be encouraging it. Having Mum or Dad get qualified and gain employment benefits a whole family. I work as tutor in the healthcare industry and often have W&I clients that I support with learning & back into the workforce and I have seen this in action. PB made a big error of judgement releasing private details – if someone speaks out about the health system – does that make it ok for the minister of health to release medical details? No.
    PB has forgotten where she came from.


  9. Bugs me that Paula Bennet excuses her own use of the TIA on the grounds that “we could afford it then” as if we were overflowing with money and could just handout money freely.

    Presumably the TIA was considered a good investment for (a) improving the lot of society and (b) reducing welfare costs in the long run by getting people off benefits. So if it was a good investment then, it's a good investment now. probably an even better one with more people heading for the dole queues.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s