Trek to stop benefit cut-off

PETRICE TARRANT
Last updated 05:00 04/12/2013
sarah warren
MARK TAYLOR
MARATHON EFFORT: Sarah Warren walked 25-kilometre to attend a mandatory Work and Income appointment from Putaruru to Tokoroa.

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A Waikato woman with no car or access to a bus walked the equivalent of a marathon to make a Work and Income appointment, to stop her benefit getting cut off.

Sarah Warren, a Putaruru mother of four who has been on the benefit for the past 20 years, walked from Putaruru to Tokoroa twice in the past month after receiving a letter from Work and Income requiring her to attend a mandatory meeting.

With no car and no public transport available she completed the 25-kilometre return journey on foot.

"If you didn't turn up they cut your benefit off," she said.

Warren said she was shortsighted, but did not have her glasses on either trip.

She said she could "hardly see" as she walked along the side of the road while cars and trucks roared past.

After finishing her hour-long appointment she had to hurry home to her four children before school finished.

"I was rushing to try and get back."

Her case manager was not interested in finding a solution, she said.

"They didn't care how I got there. They didn't want to hear about my situation."

The 47-year-old said she had lived in Putararu for about 20 years and, aside from a few weeks shift work at a local hotel, had struggled to find work.

"There's no fulltime jobs around here. They [Work and Income] say you might have to move out of town to look for a fulltime job, but my kids are happy where they are."

The increased demands on beneficiaries are part of the welfare reforms that took effect in July this year.

Those on the Sole Parent Support benefit, with a youngest child aged between 5 and 13, like Ms Warren, need to be seeking and available for part-time employment unless there is a special reason they cannot.

They need to show they are making an effort to find work, attend any job training courses or work assessments, attend interviews for suitable jobs and accept any suitable work offers.

Work and Income regional director Ski Wisnesky said staff took into account that Putaruru clients had to travel to Tokoroa.

"A minimum of five days' notice is given to allow time to make travel and childcare arrangements. Clients are able to select from a range of appointment times."

He said it was not unreasonable to expect clients to make arrangements to attend appointments once a month.

Warren said she received $360 a week from Work and Income and if she was not able to attend an appointment she stood to lose about $50.

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But Warren's neighbour, a beneficiary faced with the same problem, said the only family she could call on was her 82-year-old mother.

Rosemaree Manson has been on the benefit for the past 10 years, homeschooling her 12-year-old daughter Jess.

"I've told them I'm not going to walk but at the same time I don't want my benefit cut either."

Manson, 52, said she was more than willing to attend the meetings if she was assisted with transport.

She worked out it would cost her $56 to get her daughter and herself to one meeting and back using Intercity.

The Waikato Times asked Work and Income why the meetings could not be held in Putaruru, but staff were not able to respond to that question.

Manson has contacted churches, an MP and the South Waikato District Council for help.

- Fairfax Media

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