A 9-year-old's comment about how "cool" it was to be on a benefit has changed a Huntly woman's life.
Until six months ago, Judy Wilson was one of about 80,000 sole parents in New Zealand receiving a benefit.
She was devoted to raising her six children but, in her own words, she was also drinking, smoking, and not doing "anything".
And she had been for close to 20 years.
"It was my nine-year-old that said, ‘It's cool being on the benefit because you've been on it for so long eh mum. I'm going to go on the benefit too'."
Miss Wilson, 43, said she was "shocked" to think her circumstances would have such influence on her daughter, and the comments jolted her into action.
She started a six-week course at WINZ in order to pick up new skills and followed it up with another, more specific course, in caregiver training for about eight weeks.
Since July, she's been working at Kimihia Home and Hospital in Huntly.
It's a significant shift from the routines that dominated her life since 21, the age she first applied for the domestic purpose benefit (DPB).
"I'm more active, because you're committed to work and you've got to work for money. This job puts food on the table. I'm not laying back and waiting for the next benefit [payment]."
As of September, there were 7050 people seeking sole parent support in the Waikato Region. The vast majority have been receiving assistance for more than one year and many of them will do so long term.
According to a June 12 valuation from the Ministry of Social Development, sole parents spend an average of 15.8 years on the benefit over their lifetime, at a cost of $234,000.
People who get on a benefit as youths spend an average 18.9 years, costing $239,000.
At a glance, it's been a similar story for Miss Wilson. She had her first child at 20 and moved from Auckland back to her hometown Huntly, alone.
Her partner and father of her children stayed in Auckland, where Miss Wilson had spent most of her teenage years.
She moved in with her nan, who needed care, and over the next 20 years gave birth to Tia Huia, Raiatea and Rangi Taiki, Marama and Wati o te aroha.
The children visited their father for holidays and he paid child support, but raising the children - who are now aged between 2 and 23 - fell overwhelmingly to Miss Wilson.
Although there were intermittent periods of work, each time she was pregnant she returned to the DPB.
"I was a family woman and I wanted to be with my children," she said. "I wanted to be involved in their education. That's why I wanted to be freed up."
But being free also encouraged bad habits. "I found myself drinking so much on the benefit. Since I've been working, I haven't been drinking because you don't have time. My whole way of thinking and speaking has changed."
In July, New Zealand's welfare system had a major shakeup and the Government introduced new expectations and obligations for beneficiaries. The changes were slated by advocacy groups as punitive, but they seem to have had the Government's desired effect - for better or worse - in reducing the number of people receiving assistance.
However, Miss Wilson is adamant it was her own desire to do something with her life that motivated her - not a push from WINZ. She said she had "no goals" when she grew up and knew only that she wanted to be a mum.
Now, she's realised she can balance both.
"I always thought my place was at home, looking after the children, making sure they're fed and clean. But you can do all that as well as work."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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