Activist 'target' of dole jetsetters data

HUMILIATED: Chronically ill Nelson woman Sarah Wilson's dealings with WINZ have left her feeling frustrated and depressed.
HUMILIATED: Chronically ill Nelson woman Sarah Wilson's dealings with WINZ have left her feeling frustrated and depressed.

Nelson woman Sarah Wilson who is publicly battling Work and Income believes Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's release of data about beneficiaries flying overseas was targeted at her.

Chronically ill with an auto-immune bowel disorder, Wilson had been detailing her appointments with Work and Income Nelson on her website. Wilson was fighting against a system she called "frustrating, depressing, anxiety-inducing, dehumanising and debilitating" and said there needed to be a policy change. She had enlisted the help of Nelson-based Labour MP Maryan Street.

Wilson was in Melbourne for a week from March 30.

While Wilson was away, Bennett announced that as a result of the welfare reforms introduced in July last year, more than 21,000 people have had their benefits cut because they travelled overseas.

"We tightened the overseas travel rules as part of welfare reform and have saved New Zealand more than $10.5 million in suspended payments for beneficiaries who still chose to travel," Bennett said.

Bennett said the figures were of those who chose to travel knowing their benefit would be suspended.

"Every day we hear stories of how people cannot live on the benefit. Today you're hearing that literally thousands cannot only live on it but can afford to travel overseas as well."

Wilson said this number was nothing to be proud of and was suspicious about the timing of this announcement.

"As someone with a background in PR, it seems to me like a deliberate attempt to hit back at the very recent negative publicity for the MSD and Work and Income."

Wilson was on the benefit because she was "too ill to work".

"Many of us have work, we are just too ill to do it. Once you know this, the Government's main point, which is that beneficiaries need to be in New Zealand to be searching for and available for work, crumbles completely."

Wilson believed Bennett was encouraging anger towards those on benefits.

"She's encouraging the hard-working taxpayer to be furious with the lazy jet-setting beneficiary." She said she spent much of her time in Melbourne resting, though was "wracked with guilt".

Wilson booked and paid for her flights before she went on a benefit. She had declared her travel plans to Work and Income a month before leaving and agreed to her benefit being suspended while she was away.

"I was very aware of how I was being framed. A lazy jetsetter who doesn't want to work and is enjoying a holiday at the expense of others far more deserving than herself.

"My situation is one of those that the figures and the minister do not reveal. And it's certainly not unique."

Bennett told the Nelson Mail the announcement had nothing to do with Wilson's travel. "I regularly release benefit data and updates on welfare reform. New Zealanders quite rightly want accountability on our administration of $22 billion of welfare spending each year.

"My release of this data has nothing to do with Sarah and everything to do with my surprise that 21,000 beneficiaries have travelled overseas and had their benefits suspended since the reforms came into effect last July. Sarah is just one of nearly 300,000 beneficiaries in New Zealand. She had a poor customer service experience which Work and Income has apologised for."