Battle against beneficiary bashing

SIENA YATES
Last updated 15:00 02/10/2012
WELFARE WOES: Leah Gilbert (right) and sister, Sarah Gilbert with sign-making helpers Jeremy Greenfield and Rob Birtles, preparing for the Hamilton branch of National Day of Action against welfare reforms on Friday.
BRUCE MERCER

WELFARE WOES: Leah Gilbert (right) and sister, Sarah Gilbert with sign-making helpers Jeremy Greenfield and Rob Birtles, preparing for the Hamilton branch of National Day of Action against welfare reforms on Friday.

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Leah and Sarah Gilbert are on the domestic purposes benefit and want to stand against what they see as unfairness surrounding benefits and "beneficiary bashing".

The Hamilton sisters have got behind Friday's National Day of Action against welfare reforms and, have organised an event for people to have their say.

"Beneficiaries are being stereotyped as bludgers, parasites, lazy, selfish, that we all neglect our kids and would rather spend money on drugs and alcohol. I don’t fit into that. My kids are healthy and happy and go to school every day with full lunch boxes. That’s not me, and that’s not okay,’’ Sarah said.

"There’s a nasty tone coming out from people, and that’s not the Kiwi way that I know, we look out for each other and for the underdog."

Sarah is studying at Waikato University and Leah is in the process of going back to finish her Bachelor of Computing and Mathematical Science, but for now, both are supporting families on the DPB and other additional support.

Sarah get’s $600 a week from her benefit, and from that she says 80 per cent goes immediately to pay for rent, power and food. She spends $15 a week on a phone and internet connection and does not run a car or use public transport. The rest she puts aside for her son’s clothing, school needs, or future bills.  

They say they have to budget to the last cent, just to be careful, and that often it’s just not enough.

"I’ve gone hungry at times so that I could ensure my children would eat. What happens when I’m already doing that and the food still runs out? We need to support those in need and look at why. Why don’t families have enough food to feed their kids?" said Leah.

They said part of the stereotyping is that beneficiaries are all lumped together despite their different situations and society needs to acknowledge underlying issues instead of "just pointing the finger".

With the help of friends and family, the sisters have worked with Hamilton City Council, police, and various volunteer organisations and have lined up Labour MP Sue Maroney and social anthropologist, Mike Goldsmith to speak at a local event to mark the day of action.

The day will include a march, followed by a rally, and a separate family event. 

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- Waikato Times

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