Diabetic's food plea rejected

ACCESS DENIED: Pensioner Barry Fort who has type one diabetes has been told he is ineligible to receive a $100 food grant from WINZ.
ACCESS DENIED: Pensioner Barry Fort who has type one diabetes has been told he is ineligible to receive a $100 food grant from WINZ.

Work and Income has refused to give a diabetic New Plymouth pensioner a food grant, leaving him and his partner worried for his health.

Barry Fort, 72, has type one diabetes and he injects himself with insulin four times a day.

He has been been admitted to hospital five times because of his condition, and to keep his glucose levels normal and avoid entering a diabetic coma Mr Fort needs to eat regularly.

This week he and his partner of 40 years, Sandra Watson, near-exhausted their $500 bank overdraft after their car broke down.

The couple made an appointment with Work and Income New Zealand (Winz) and asked for a $100 food grant to tide them over until they were paid their pension again in a fortnight.

Their request for food was denied.

Ms Watson, 66, was devastated when Winz turned down their plea.

"I told them Barry needs to eat because he has diabetes and he can't go without food. Without food he will die.

"I said to the girl, ‘If he doesn't get food you're going to be nothing but murderers,' but we still walked out with nothing," Ms Watson said.

After being turned down for help, the pair shared a tin of baked beans for their dinner that night.

The grant would have given the couple $7.14 each to spend on food a day and Mr Fort said he did not understand why the request had been denied.

"We have been living off the overdraft, but now I only have $150 of it left and we don't get paid for another fortnight.

"$50 of that is for the power next week and the rest is going on bills, but they said I had money in the bank.

"It's not money, it's overdraft," Mr Fort, a former taxi driver, said.

About four years ago the couple had asked for a food grant and had received one then.

"I didn't think it would be a big deal. $100 isn't even half a trolley of groceries. But they said they were not going to give us anything and that was that," he said.

Arthur Grooby, general manager for senior services at the Ministry of Social Development, said Ms Watson left the service centre before staff had the opportunity to discuss Mr Fort's diabetes.

"We were not given the opportunity to discuss exceptional circumstances with Ms Watson," he said.

Mr Grooby said the couple had received their pension the day before they asked for extra assistance.

"Ms Watson met with a case manager to apply for a food grant and confirmed a bank account balance of $153.

He said Ms Watson had told her case manager the couple had unexpected expenses, but she was unable to provide details.

"Senior Services are required to sight documented evidence of the unexpected, essential cost.

"Based on the information and documentation provided it was determined there was sufficient funds remaining for the couple to purchase food," he said.

Mr Fort, who has no family in New Plymouth, said the pair had felt embarrassed to ask for help, but they had no choice.

The couple still had no food in their freezer and Ms Watson said she was concerned for her partner's health.

"I've had to call the ambulance for him before and he's collapsed in the street because of his diabetes. I don't want that to happen again, but I don't know what to do."

Mr Fort said he still wanted Winz to give him what he asked for. "The bottom line is we don't have enough money to eat, or enough money to survive.

"I don't understand why they can't help a couple of pensioners," he said.

Taranaki Daily News