Tuesday, March 29, 2016

President's Report December 2015

 President's Report     12 December 2015                             Janet Robin

Tēnā kōutou katoa, Greetings everyone.

The lack of affordable housing, and the government's attack on state housing, has been a major issue this year.  Deaths of State Housing tenants, including a small girl, due to poor housing conditions such as mould and lack of insulation, hit the headlines early in the year. Increasing numbers of individuals and families are becoming homeless, living on the streets or in cars, garages etc.  And yet the government continues to sell off state housing.

Several of our members attended a meeting in Glen Innes in February, which had been called to set up a national network of housing activists. A new organisation was formed called the State Housing Action Network.

Around this time the National Party Minister, Nick Smith was addressing a public meeting in Henderson, and some of our members picketed this meeting.

Keith and myself became the delegates for West Auckland for SHAN. Unite Waitemata gave its full support to SHAN and to this West Auckland branch.   As West Auckland SHAN and Unite Waitemata  we worked hard to distribute flyers, petitions, and posters, contacting the local media, and calling a public meeting in Henderson. The meeting was well attended, with a large contingent from Glen Innes present, and some people from local housing and community organisations,  political parties, and  community boards. Despite this initial burst of energy and enthusiasm, the level of energy and commitment to this type of activism was not sustained throughout the year. I planned to do a screening of the film "A Place to Call Home", at one of our branch meetings; but not many people attended and the video player didn't work.

Unite Waitemata renewed its action around housing towards the end of the year, when some of our members participated in the hikoi for housing, organised by   the Child Poverty Action Group, Auckland Action Against Poverty, and others.

Attacks upon beneficiaries have escalated, with many reports of appalling treatment of beneficiaries at WINZ offices. Since the shooting at a WINZ office in Ashburton at the end of2014, WINZ offices now have security guards at every door.

The extra $25 per week for families on benefits, included in this year's budget, came after strong public pressure to do something about poverty, poor housing, and homelessness. Most beneficiaries see it as being too little too late.

For much of this year we have met at a room on the grounds of the St Lukes Church, in Mt Albert, because of a large increase in the cost of hiring a room at the Avondale Community Centre. The Mt Albert room was much cheaper, and quite comfortable, but some people found it difficult to get there, and attendance dropped off. Some of our members are currently looking for another room for 2016.

After the Australian Government passed draconian laws preventing people from getting welfare benefits or tax concessions if they didn't vaccinate their children, our branch voted to oppose this, and to oppose our government doing anything similar here, should it wish to do in the future.

Our members have attended several rallies and demonstrations about the TPPA, Climate Change, Refugees and other issues.

I have continued to help people with issues with WINZ.

Our two facebook groups are still going reasonably strong- the Waitemata Unite Group, and the Unite Waitemata Community Page. Not much has been posted on our website http://waitemataunite.blogspot.co.nz   however I recently edited the page slightly and changed some of the colours. We can still be contacted at unitewaitemata@gmail.com.

 I recently attended the 2015 Unite National Conference. Some of the security guards at WINZ offices are members of Unite. A delegate reported that they work under poor working conditions and don't feel safe.  Gerard Heihir , the Secretary of Unite, reported that he had spoken to the PSA, as instructed  by a remit introduced by Unite Waitemata to the 2014 Unite  National Conference, and   passed at that conference. The remit asked him to talk to the PSA about  supporting  the rights of beneficiaries, and opposing the welfare cuts;  in order to create safety for both beneficiaries and case managers at WINZ. However, apparently the PSA told him that their focus was on security, rather than prevention of problems by creating good relationships and supporting people's human rights.

Recently it was revealed that Work and Income had been wrongly starting the payment of people's benefits a day late whenever they enrolled for a benefit since 1998.  So some people have applied for a refund of their missing days' pay, and are starting to get paid for this. It is still possible to get some money back up till January 8th 2016, but the Government has now passed a law preventing people getting their money back after that.  More information is on the Waitemata Unite Group page  on Facebook, and on the page Claim Your Missing  Day  from W@I.

Some of us recently attended a picket of the National Party end of year party , in Te Atatu, organised by Auckland Action Against Poverty.

Our activism reduced a little in the second part of the year. Our core group remains committed and we will continue to meet in 2016.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Key's Casino Cabinet is Guilty of Infanticide

It has now been repeatedly proved beyond dispute that when it comes to matters of social welfare and industrial safety John Key's Casino Cabinet is more than willing to play Russian roulette with fatal outcomes. It was bad enough when the gambles they were prepared to take had yet to kill anybody. Now that the number of fatalities is mounting it is intolerable that they should remorselessly turn their loaded revolver on yet another of the most vulnerable groups in society with their Social Bonds experiment.

Media comment on the deaths of Emma-Lita Bourne and Seosa Tovo through respiratory illness has until now largely focused on the dampness of the state houses which the coroners have blamed for their deaths, and Housing NZ chiefs have accepted responsibility- which is more than can be said of the Housing Minister.

But, as pointed out by Northland doctor Roger Tuck, insulating a house will not prevent dampness unless it is adequately heated, and every day he sees children who- despite living in insulated houses-  suffer life-threatening respiratory illness because their parents quite simply cannot afford the heating bills. Inadequate incomes are clearly as much to blame as inadequate housing.

The Prime Minister himself lamely acknowledged this when he alluded to the $25 benefit increase announced in the budget as a measure to remedy an unsatisfactory situation. Although he did not admit it, this was also an acknowledgement that his government's reliance on employment to solve the problems of poverty is an abject failure.  He must be called upon to acknowledge this far more explicitly than he has so far dared to do.

When Paula Bennett introduced her much vaunted benefit reforms more benevolent and far more knowledgable people were quick to warn of their potentially lethal consequences. Not content as usual to simply ignore sound advice, John Key's cavalier response was to flippantly deride the warnings by saying that even if all benefit assistance was cut, no-one in N.Z. would die of starvation. I challenge him to repeat that assertion at Emma-Lita's funeral. If no children have died of starvation,  Key should thank the tens of thousands of parents who have saved his bacon by risking their childrens  health as they evidently do whenever they economise on vital home heating.

Paula Bennett has insisted ad nauseam that employment, not welfare- is the solution to poverty, both of beneficiaries and their children. The death of Soesa Tovo, who was employed as a security guard from the same causes as Emma-Lita proves her to have been at worst disingenuous and at best self-deluded, and she likewise must be held to account for her errors. That is unless she and her colleagues are prepared to admit that their employment and welfare policies have been successful in keeping wages as low as they are, and that infant mortality is for them an acceptable price to pay for the higher attendant profits. Her strenuous denials that welfare reforms had any such goal would be more credible were she to equally strenuously oppose the Employment Relations Act.

During her term of office Ms Bennett has shown a great deal of zeal in prosecuting parents whose apparent neglect has resulted in the death of their children. It has suited her political agenda to thus stigmatise those who she has conspired to deprive of the means of supporting their children. Let's see her show the same zeal in denouncing those whose negligence is responsible for Emma-Lita's death.

If any of John Key's ministers had a shred of the decency that so many NZers attribute to them, they would  be ashamed to serve in his cabinet and would resign in remorse. Whether through design or through negligence is somewhat immaterial: they are collectively guilty of infanticide.
Indeed, -apart from book-keeping- wilful or inadvertent homicide is the only thing for which they have shown any competence whatsoever.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

President's Report 2013-2014

President's Report        17 October 2014                           Janet Robin

Greetings members and friends, welcome to the AGM of Unite Waitemata.
Tēnā koutou , tēna koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.

 All our remits were passed at Unite AGM on 26-26th November 2013.

·      Unite calls for minimum wages and benefits to be at the level of a living income.
·      Unite Calls for One Year’s Paid Parental Leave.
·      Unite calls for all carers of their disabled adult family members to have the right to be employed by the state on a living wage.
·      Unite Calls for Working for Families Tax Credits to be extended to Beneficiary Families.
·      Unite opposes all benefit sanctions.
·      Unite opposes compulsory drug tests, compulsory training, working without pay, compulsory childcare and compulsory medical visits for beneficiaries and their families.
·      Unite opposes work testing of parents, the sick and disabled.
·      Unite opposes the use of WINZ trained designated doctors to provide alternative diagnoses to the diagnosis provided by the beneficiary’s own doctor.
·      Unite opposes “income management” for youth.
·      Unite opposes contracting out WINZ functions  to private  providers.
·      Unite calls on the Government to create real jobs for those that need them.

Early this year Ivan and I attended the first meeting of the new Unite executive. We had been invited to attend by Unite President Gerard Heihir, to help decide how to implement the remits.

We suggested having a paid organiser for beneficiaries, and publishing a link to our branch on the Unite website, but we were told we were just asking for money.
Nothing was decided. The Vice President was meant to get in touch with me so we could make further plans together. But he didn't do this, and I didn't hear back from Gerard Heihir.

People  have come to our meetings and joined the branch after I helped them  with advocacy as a Unite peer advocate , and sometimes  as an advocate  at a local community organisation where I have been working. People have come to our meetings after meeting us at public events such as pickets and demonstrations.

We  had a visit in January from Julie Whitehouse from the Auckland Single Parents Trust.  We met Julie at a demonstration outside a National Party  Christmas Party at Auckland Grammar School last December, organised by Auckland Action Against Poverty.  Later in the year Julie 's political differences with us became apparent, when she publically supported the Government's work focus for single parents.

In February the branch had a visit from the Unite Secretary Matt McCarten.
As it turned out, this was just before he left Unite to become the campaign manager for David Cuniffe and the Labour Party.

 On March 8th, I celebrated International Women's Day on our behalf by taking some placards to the Poverty Spoons display in Te Atatu People's Park.

On the 26th March we held a successful protest at a public meeting for Paula Bennett at the Kelston Community Centre.  We met Christina Faumuina, a Labour Party member and former SFWU delegate , who spoke very eloquently at the public meeting.

Christina attended our next meeting and joined our branch.

We held a successful forum at the Trades Hall to celebrate May Day.

 In August I participated in the Auckland Action Against Poverty Impact at Mangere WINZ. . I was shocked at the level of poverty and hardship that so many people were enduring.

I have continued to maintain our facebook pages.
Unite Waitemata organiser page has 648 friends
The Waitemata Unite Group has 212 members.
The Unite Waitemata  Community (Like)  page has 160 friends

Our website is waitemataunite.blogspot.com.  Keith has been contributing to it this year. It has had 46, 664 page views in all time, and 3451 page views in the last month.  

Some of us continued to informally support the Mana Movement, and the newly formed Internet Mana Party during the election campaign. We had more formally supported Mana  during the previous election.  The defeat of Internet- Mana  (and the possibiity of a Labour led government) and the triumph of National at the elections, with their declared intention of reducing the number of beneficiaries by another 25% is a big concern for us. Poverty levels are soaring.  Child poverty was an election issue, which National gave some lip service to, but appears to have already decided to do nothing about it.  Housing is at an absolute crisis with many families living in cars and garages.  Keith and some of our members have been active supporting state housing tenants' struggles this year.

That's the end of my report . I hope you enjoy the rest of the meeting.
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou , tēnā tātou katoa.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Secretary's Report 2013/4

Waitemata Branch of Unite Union

Secretary's Annual Report 2013/4

Keith Henderson 16/10/14

Waitemata Branch’s activities during the year 2013-2014 have consisted of advocacy for members with benefit issues, public comment on issues affecting beneficiaries, the initiation of meetings and protests and the participation in protest actions organised by others.

In the field of advocacy we have had one victory at a Benefits Review Committee hearing in a case where a member had had his benefit stopped allegedly for failing to fulfil job-seeking obligations. The outcome was reinstatement of benefit with back-payment of lost entitlements. The case demonstrated the value of taking matters to the Review Committee with peer support. Had this not been given our member would have been grievously victimised.

The main issue on which Waitemata Branch has commented publicly has been Work Capability Assessments and WINZ use of designated doctors to achieve arbitrary targets in the number of benefits granted. The invaluable information obtained by one of our associates under the official information act has been posted on our blog along with other commentary on the benefit reforms. I as secretary also wrote an open letter to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians criticising the position paper on the Health Benefits of Work put out by its Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which WINZ saw fit to quote on it Work Capacity Certificates, despite a faulty methodology which if consistently applied would return NZ to the Victorian era of child labour.

The open letter was sent to the CTU and some of its unions that had signed up to the FOEM's Consensus Statement but (shamefully) no response has been received. An abridged version of the letter was published in the NZ Medical Journal but as that journal is accessible only to subscribers I don't know how it the letter was received by the medical profession at large.

At our last monthly meeting the branch resolved to call on the PSA to recognise, in view of the tragic shootings at the Ashburton WINZ office, that the benefit reforms have turned WINZ offices into lethal environments and to organise appropriate industrial action under the Health and Safety provisions of the ERA. A remit to be put to this meeting addresses this issue.

When it became apparent that there would be no Mayday parade in 2014 Waitemata Branch undertook to organise a Mayday forum at Trades Hall which had quite a good turnout.

We initiated protests at two of Paula Bennett's public meetings in the lead up to the election. At one of these our vice president was assaulted by the police for attempting to get too close to Bill English who stood in for PB whose plane was delayed by fog. Neither of these protests was well supported by other groups, though a competing event excuses this n the latter case.

The housing crisis and the defence of state tenants have this year become one of our major preoccupations. Individual members have continued to attend meetings of the Tamaki Housing Action Group and reported on proceedings. Other sources have confirmed 'our man's impression that the struggle in GI was subordinated to Mana's electoral politics. Only recently did I hear about a picket in May which temporarily delayed the removal of a state house.

Recognising that GI is geographically too remote for most of our members to participate, our branch resolved to support the state tenants' struggle wherever we could closer to home. We invited Gael Baldock to address our June branch meeting re her own struggle in Grey Lynn and contribute toward the publicity costs for the public meeting her support committee organised at Trades Hall. We heartily congratulate her on the victory she has since won in the tenancy tribunal. Along the way her struggle has exposed the chicanery of a once proud Housing NZ now dedicated to serving the Nats neo-liberal agenda.

With a view to supporting struggles in Grey Lynn and GI we committed to collaborating with other parties in organising a public meeting in West Auckland on the housing crisis. However of the parties contacted none showed an interest- until we heard of the Housing Call 2 Action network that independently was publicising the related issue of homelessness. At the public meeting they organised (which was addressed by rival electoral candidates) we distributed a leaflet calling on working class people to make themselves available for pickets in defence of state houses. That no-one signed up to a contact register revealed a lamentable reliance on parliamentarians who solve a housing crisis they have allowed to happen.

Foremost among the protest marches we have supported have been the CPAG's march against child poverty and the series of solidarity marches for Gaza when it was under assault again from the might of the IDF. We voted $100 towards the Kia Ora Gaza relief fund.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The truth about Designated Doctors

Re- posted from   http://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/

DESIGNATED DOCTORS – USED BY WORK AND INCOME, some also used by ACC: The truth about them

1 Vote

DESIGNATED DOCTORS – USED BY WORK AND INCOME, some also used by ACC: The truth about supposedly “independent” Designated Doctors
Over the last couple of years I have been able to collate some highly interesting information from sources like Work and Income (‘WINZ’) clients, advocates, bloggers, certain internet websites, the media and part-time researchers. It includes documents and some other information that could be found by researching past and present media reports, also reports and online manuals from the Ministry of Social Development (‘MSD’) and WINZ websites, through looking at various other websites on the internet, and last not least also by way of Official Information Act (O.I.A.) requests.
The information discloses what the Ministry of Social Development and WINZ have been doing in the areas of medical examinations, assessments and reviews by commissioned “designated doctors”. It includes some valuable other information about medical appeals to Medical Appeal Boards (MABs), and it shows, that the MSD did during 2008 conduct a nation-wide “training program” for the “designated doctors”, who they use for getting second opinions, assessments and recommendations on recipients of, or applicants for, sickness and invalid’s benefits (now called “deferred jobseeker” and “supported living” benefits).
A television “expose” (or documentary) on what has been going on at ACC (’60 minutes’ programme, TV3 on 09 Sept. 2012, available via ‘On Demand’ or ‘You Tube’) showed what appalling strategies were followed there. It was revealed that ACC targeted complex, high cost claimants, by using preferred, hand-picked medical assessors, to prepare reports that favoured ACC. Cost saving appeared to come before proper rehabilitation, treatments and compensation, so they used a kind of “exit strategy” to off-load thousands of such claimants, who in many cases ended up having to apply for invalid’s or sickness benefits. I am afraid that very similar developments have occurred with Work and Income as part of the MSD, leading to former invalid’s beneficiaries having been shifted onto the lower paid sickness benefit, and former sickness beneficiaries been shifted onto the former unemployment benefit.
I wish to provide you with some informative details about the use of so-called “designated doctors”, who are expected to perform similar tasks as ACC assessors in this summary report (with relevant resources).
The information available is somewhat complex, and regrettably requires a bit of study and reading to grasp of what has, still is, and what will continue to be done in the areas of medical assessments, reviews, “designated doctor” examinations, Medical Appeal Board hearings and the likes. But I have attempted to summarise it all to keep it within a reasonable amount of information to digest.
Major social welfare reforms came into effect in July 2013. They have led to some changes of the law and processes. WINZ are continuing to apply an ever more rigorous, yes very questionable approach, as they have already done since at least 2008. With the introduction of the Future Focus policies in 2010 the criteria for being considered sick, disabled and thus incapacitated to do any work, has been tightened substantially. WINZ expect their own Health and Disability Advisors, and the “designated doctors” they regularly use and work with, to now primarily look at what a client CAN DO, rather than what they CANNOT DO! That is of course a bit of a “catchy” but ambiguous phrase, and naturally it can lead to subjective ways of diagnosing and assessing persons, as to what they can individually do or not do when it comes to any work activity.
The MSD has long been concerned about the growth of sickness and invalid’s beneficiary numbers, and hence looked at possible ways to contain the trend of more persons qualifying and going onto these types of benefit. The following extract from a report by Dr Neil Lunt, published in the ‘Social Policy Journal of New Zealand’, from March 2006 (Issue 27), under the section headline ‘The background to reforming SB and IB’, page 82 gives a brief insight, of what moves were made under the then National led government in the 1990s:
“National’s Welfare to Work brand (Player 1994, Ministry of Social Policy 2001) saw a new approach to medical certification for SB and IB. National’s attempts at reform saw the introduction of the Designated Doctor Scheme in September 1995, with designated doctors having responsibility for assessing benefit eligibility, certifying applications for SB at 13 and 52 weeks, and certifying grants for IB, and recommending a possible review (12, 18, 24 months). From 1998, there was an alignment of SB rates with UB rates for new grants and the introduction of the Community Wage in place of UB and SB. In October 1998, the designated doctor review scheme was revised and doctors signing the certificate were able to certify SB for four weeks and then at 13-week intervals. For IB, designated doctors certify the granting of a benefit, with review being recommended by these doctors for two years, five years, or never. During the first part of 1999, there was also the trial of work capacity assessment for those with sickness, disability, or injury. A Phase one trial was undertaken but Phase two was never completed. The work capacity process for IB and SB sought to identify the level of work, if any, a beneficiary was capable of, and to determine what assistance would help them move into paid work (abridged from Wilson et al. 2005:4–5 Table 1.1).”
The National government of that time did plan to introduce “work capacity assessments”, but this was never implemented, as there was another change of government in 1999, thus putting a stop on National’s welfare plans, which were aimed at restricting welfare access, placing much stronger individual responsibilities on persons on benefits, and enforcing more obligations for them to seek and stay in work, or do training.
The same report from Dr Neil Lunt from 2006 described this in the following section (p. 83):
“These approaches sought to narrow the gateway to benefits and to ensure those with work capacity did not avoid the obligations that were at this time being placed on other groups of beneficiaries, including those in receipt of UB and Domestic Purpose Benefit. I would argue that the approach was individualised and an underpinning assumption saw “problems” as located in individual claimants, particularly in their attitudes towards work and unwillingness to meet their obligations.”
It appears therefore that the first use of so-called “designated doctors” – as we now know them – started with the introduction of that “Designated Doctor Scheme” mentioned above. Prior to that separate examinations and assessments for the earlier Department of Social Welfare (DSW, later WINZ) appear to have been made by certain specialist doctors, if there were uncertainties in host (own) doctor assessments. The writer of that report I quoted from, states that the approach introduced by the government then “saw “problems” as located in individual claimants, particularly their attitudes to work…”. This indicates that the reforms introduced then were an attempt to include a somewhat judgmental, yes possibly prejudicial approach, based on the belief, or view, that persons claiming sickness or invalid’s benefits were claiming these, rather for avoiding work obligations, than being seriously sick or disabled, although medical certificates were required by the then ‘Department of Social Welfare’ to prove that the latter applied.
With a change in government, and a new approach that was taken from 1999 onwards, more supportive and inclusive ways were being proposed and introduced, largely based on a “social model” for dealing with disability and incapacity. The launching of the ‘New Zealand Disability Strategy’ ‘Making a World of Difference’ (New Zealand Disability Strategy 2001) created a new platform to work from. The Labour government followed a “modern” style welfare policy, with an “investment approach” targeted to assist individual WINZ clients with sickness and disability to achieve better outcomes for themselves, by enhancing employability. “Enhanced case management” was brought in, same as some “Innovative Employment Assistance” initiatives. By about 2005/2006 the then Labour led government decided to follow a yet more “active” approach, which was also somewhat inspired or motivated by new reports and approaches presented in the United Kingdom. I will get to what that meant a bit later. Also were there plans for introducing “single core benefits” from as early as 2007, consisting of one set of rates and one set of eligibility criteria for benefits, but with add-ons to support people who have higher costs such as accommodation or disability-related – whether in or out of work.
Some of these policies were never realised, but trials were run, leading to certain initiatives to be implemented nationally, as this following section from the same report (pages 86-87) mentioned above shows:
“There has long been a concern about gateways into SB and IB and particularly the most appropriate locus of responsibility for certification. This was an area that subsequent National and Labour governments have sought to address. Most recently, the government has allowed local general practitioners and case managers to seek a second opinion where doubt exists about new and continued eligibility for SB, thus pre-empting patient “capture” that is said to result from close or longstanding personal relationships between claimants and their doctors. This initiative was piloted in the Wellington region with national rollout starting from June 2005. There is also enhanced guidance for general practitioners to “improve the management of inflow” onto SB (Maharey 2005b).”
The following chapter from the same report (page 92-93) shows how much the British welfare changes were also given serious consideration by the last Labour government:
“Healthy Welfare”
“Ongoing engagement with the medical profession is likely to be required to clarify general practitioners’ roles of clinician, advocate, and adjudicator in relation to health and wellbeing. Overseas evidence also suggests general practitioners’ views about work sickness depends on a general practitioner’s own personal views, patient characteristics, time available, expertise in occupational health, and views about continuity of care (Mowlam and Lewis 2005). General practitioners often feel pressured and are also inclined to take the wider views of claimants/patients into account, perhaps not wanting to commit them to searches for scarce work or where services are poor (Social Market Foundation 2005). A fuller notion of employability clearly encompasses the supply, demand and matching of labour (Lunt 2006).
It seems likely that prevention and managing long-term sickness-related absence will be increasingly important areas, with medical practitioners encouraged to do more to help workers stay in and retain work.”
From the same report’s “footnotes” on “designated doctors” (page 82) this is quoted:
“Designated doctors assess a person’s medical eligibility for the Invalid’s Benefit. Under current regulations, “Designated Doctors must be registered with the New Zealand Medical Council and hold an annual practising certificate. Designated Doctors must be fully informed about their responsibilities under the Social Security Act 1964”.
And here is the title and link to the quoted report that can be found on the MSD website on the internet (copies can be downloaded in MSD Word and PDF format):
‘Sickness and Invalid’s Benefits: New Developments and Continuing Challenges’
By Neil Lunt, Social Policy Programme, Massey University at Albany
The proportion of the working-aged population receiving an Invalid’s Benefit (IB) has increased steadily betw een 1994 and 2004, and numbers on a Sickness Benefit (SB) rose sharply in the early 1990s and have continued to increase between 2000 and 2005. New Zealand has witnessed considerable policy activity in the field of SB and IB, as well as disability policy more broadly. To date, there has been relatively little attention paid by academic commentators to the increased emphasis on working actively with SB and IB clients. This is despite the fact that the new directions signalled for SB and IB constitute nothin g less than a paradigm shift. At the heart of change is the move beyond individuals – beyond focusing on either their disability or their lack of motivation.”
Also of interest is this separate report, which elaborates on the growth of the invalid’s benefit, also mentioning “reforms” and measures taken by governments, involving also the “designated doctors”. Copies can be downloaded in MSD Word and PDF format:
‘Understanding the Growth in Invalid’s Benefit Receipt in New Zealand’
By: Moira Wilson, Keith McLeod, Centre for Social Research and Evaluation, Ministry of Social Development:
This paper reports on research that uses the Ministry of Social Development’s benefit administration data to advance our understanding of the growth in the number of people receiving the Invalid’s Benefit over the decade to 2002. It investigates the growth in inflows of people to Invalid’s Benefit, as this was the main cause of growth in recipient numbers.”
Of interest will also be the “official” WINZ website information on “designated doctors”:
“Work and Income have established a panel of respected medical practitioners to provide second opinions on medical information – designated doctors. The provision of a second opinion assists Work and Income to determine a person’s capacity for work and entitlement to financial assistance. It also assists us with helping people to move towards employment.”
From the above information it can be seen that MSD and WINZ have been using “designated doctors” under both National and Labour governments, and the involvement of these nowadays actually carefully selected medical professionals has fluctuated.
The clear intention was to use them to find ways to gather more information on clients with health conditions and disabilities, but also to offer additional measures to increasingly “assist” or “usher” WINZ clients back into work or training.
Already under the last Labour led government a stronger work focus was gradually adopted for beneficiaries from as early as 2005 on, this leading to introducing some new processes, rules and ways to assess and “assist” applicants, and consequently even more intensive efforts in 2007 and 2008. This was largely based upon the advice of senior policy making staff and management within MSD.
Following reforms under National in the 1990s the number of “designated doctors” reached over 1,000, although only a small number of them would handle most examinations and reviews. Still in 2007 a memo from MSD states they had 1,090 on their books. About then WINZ still had about 115 psychiatrists, a number of other specialists, but only 3 psychologists in their pool. 226 were only on the “general register”, and 224 “designated doctors” were then based in hospitals. The number of “designated doctors” was so high then, because until about that time a “designated doctor” recommendation was usually asked for (by case managers), before any person was granted an invalid’s benefit. Only a much smaller number were used to examine and assess those on (or before being granted) sickness benefits (for “second opinions”). Only barely half of “designated doctors” were then vocationally registered and based in general practice clinics. In 2005 or perhaps 2007 only 41 “designated doctor” GPs wrote 26 per cent of all reports (according do a 2007 memo).
After the Labour government introduced the ‘Principal Health Advisor’ (PHA) and ‘Principal Disability Advisor’ (PDA) positions, which were filled by appointed persons like Dr David Brattand Anne Hawker. Both were then put in charge of overseeing, mentoring and instructing Regional Health Advisors (RHAs), Regional Disability Advisors (RDAs) and Health and Disability Coordinators (HDCs) sitting in the regional offices of MSD and WINZ.
Following the appointment of those Principal Health and Disability Advisors, the Regional Health Advisors and Regional Disability Advisors, as well as so-called Health and Disability Coordinators in late 2007 and in 2008, changes were brought in by way of a new medical certificate and by changing the way of using “designated doctors”. They were after then intended to be used rather only for providing “second opinions”, rather than for making initial assessments on potential, new invalid’s beneficiaries, or those being reviewed. Also was the intention to keep and recruit rather vocationally registered practitioners, mostly only GPs, rather than the wider pool of partly not sufficiently experienced and registered practitioners. More balance from region to region was anticipated, and RHAs, RDAs and HDCs were being involved in finding and encouraging GPs – and a few other suitable practitioners – to apply to become “designated doctors”, where there may be a perceived shortage of them. Case managers would also be involved in finding out where shortages existed, and what kind of doctors would be “suitable” for WINZ and MSD.
The result would afterwards be a much smaller pool of “designated doctors”, most of who would though be vocationally registered (and better qualified and experienced). But given the increased coordination and cooperation of the new MSD staff in the roles of RHAs, RDAs and HDCs (all overseen and instructed by primarily Dr David Bratt, and also Anne Hawker) and the medical practitioners, there would be “designated doctors” considered to be the more “preferred” ones for WINZ. Naturally certain “designated doctors” would be found to have a reputation to deliver certain outcomes, that senior MSD and WINZ staff would consider “helpful”, so it can be concluded, that an unofficial, but understandable “selection” would occur, where a small core of doctors out of the total pool of the “designated doctors” would end up with the larger work-load, given their “preferred expertise” or desired “output” in recommendations.
There appears to have been a somewhat new “culture” within MSD and WINZ in regards to the handling of medical examinations, assessments and reviews, that started to develop under the auspices of Dr David Bratt, who came to the Ministry after having worked as a kind of consultant at the Capital and Coast DHB. He is also known to have done work for ACC, same as a Dr David Rankin, who also worked for MSD.
It was in 2008 also certainly noticeable that there was a kind of media campaign that the National Party opposition appeared to be running, or at least was heavily promoting and driving, and Judith Collins was as their “welfare spokesperson” a main driver behind it, actually “feeding” media with endless National Party “press releases”. There had already been ongoing criticism by certain politicians and some others (likely with ulterior motives) about the fact that the number of persons on the sickness benefit had been increasing under Labour, while unemployment was as low as it had not been for over 16 years.
Various media reports, also from the NZ Doctor magazine, then claimed that there were many incidents of “doctor bullying”, where apparent drug addicts and some sickness beneficiaries were putting undue pressures on GPs to sign off medical certificates, so they could claim a benefit for health reasons. Apart from a questionable “survey” the actual number of such incidents was never clearly established, and there was never sufficient evidence provided, that this was ever serious, wide-spread behaviour. “Drug addicts” were thrown together with “sickness beneficiaries”, as if they belonged into the same “drawer”. Also was there never any proper information on what particular reasons may have been behind cases, where some behaviour perceived as “pressure” may have had occurred. No consideration was given to the possibility that some felt unfairly treated by doctors, some of whom could well have been working as “designated doctors” for WINZ.
One blog entry and comment thread on ACC Forum did then actually cover these media reports, and the following link does lead you to that one:
From the ‘NZ Doctor’ magazine on 02 July 2008 Lucy Ratcliffe was quoted as reporting: “Just over a third of GPs polled say bullying is a serious concern for them and drug addicts and sickness beneficiaries are most likely to be the culprits.
The latest New Zealand Doctor/IMS Health faxpoll finds a third of GPs (33 per cent) say they’ve been bullied two to three times during their career in general practice, and just over a quarter (26 per cent) say it’s happened four to five times.
Eighteen per cent say they’ve been bullied more than 10 times and 6 per cent say it’s happened so many times they’ve lost count.”
It becomes clear that this “survey” asked “loaded” or ambiguous questions, so doctors referred to incidents “during their career”, which is likely to cover very many years in most cases!
Dr David Bratt did though appear to take up that issue with some passion and added his own comment to certain media reports on incidents, which were only quoting very few GPs. It will not surprise those who know more about Dr Bratt and his clearly biased views that the rounded survey result would later show up in many of his “presentations” that he regularly gives to GP conferences, other medical professional gatherings, to medical trainers and trainees, which are full of such hand-picked, insufficiently proved statistics.
Designated Doctor Training
Under Dr Bratt (a common GP from Wellington, with specialisation in obstetrics), who has been Principal Health Advisor since late 2007, WINZ and MSD soon even started “training” the so-called “designated doctors” that WINZ relies on for giving second opinions and conducting reviews of applicants’ and sickness and invalid’s beneficiaries’ health conditions.
In a memo from T. Mulvena, ‘National Manager Strategic Projects’ at MSD and Work and Income, and Steve McGill, ‘National Manager Health, Disability and Financial Outcomes’, dated 27 June 2008 and addressed to ‘Regional Commissioners’, in which a “designated doctor” training program was proposed, it was stated, that Work and Income has never provided training for designated doctors in the past.” Dr David Bratt as PHA and Dr David Rankin as ‘Senior Advisor’ were mentioned as supporting the move for “training”.
Officially this “training” was supposed to be “neutral” and “objective” and only intended to “assist” designated doctors to understand the WINZ and MSD system and certain administrative and other requirements, but there is sufficient information showing, that the very resolutely “work ability focused” Dr David Bratt has used presentation- and apparently also “training” material, which clearly has a strong, underlying bias to it. In another memo from 27 March 2006 Dr Rankin had already proposed to the ‘Working New Zealand – SDD’ department within MSD, that the role of “designated doctors” needed to be refined. He recommended in one points under his summary:“Designated doctors should be engaged through a robust selection process and be involved in regular training and education.” In other memos, like one from 05 June 2007, Dr Rankin suggested other changes, raising issues with the then present use and selection of “designated doctors”, and how a “robust” new GP Second Opinion service program should be rolled out. In this the roles of RHAs and RDAs (working under protocols and oversight by the PHA and PDA) were described, how they should be involved in client referrals to “designated doctors”.
Training sessions were held during late 2008 all over New Zealand, and the clear intention was to “train” all “designated doctors” that MSD and WINZ could reach. The new Health and Disability Coordinators (HDCs) were involved in supplying materials, contacting doctors, and so forth. “Training scenarios” and other material were used by Dr Bratt and Dr Rankin, who conducted the training, and looking at those shows that especially the “scenarios” and some “presentations” contained quite “biased” case scenarios and other information, which portrayed sick and disabled beneficiaries as tending to be dishonest, untrustworthy, shirkers, malingerers or exaggerators. Participating doctors were offered “medical education credits”, an “education fee” of $ 150 for participating, possible help with “travel arrangements”, and in some cases even with “accommodation”.
Another internal MSD memo I have seen is from Debbie Costello and Barbara-Anne Stenson as Programme Managers, addressed to Dr Bratt, T. Mulvena and two others, and dated 23 January 2008. It outlines proposed measures, resources and approaches to take in the planned “Designated Doctor Training”, and on page 5 also says rather openly under ‘Costs will include’:“Food and non-alcoholic drinks would be provided on arrival, or to assist social networking after the formal presentation.” On page 3 the same memo states that: “Attending a training course should be compulsory for a doctor to remain a designated doctor.”
In yet another memo dated 19 November 2008 Dr Bratt wrote to Mike Smith, ‘GM Strategy and Service Development’ at MSD, that the fees paid to “designated doctors” doing examinations and giving recommendations on WINZ clients should be reviewed and “adjusted”. It appears that training session attendees expressed dissatisfaction with the way MSD would pay them for the assessments they provided. He refers to an established list of contract “Designated Doctors”. Clearly the WINZ “designated doctors” had expressed their concerns about the time required to complete assessments, which in 1995 was estimated to take only about 30 minutes, but which now was closer to 45 minutes per client. Also did Dr Bratt raise that “designated doctors” had experienced losses in revenue from assessments, as invalid’s benefit applications and reviews were now no longer regularly requiring reports from them. Dr Bratt did thus suggest that MSD increase the standard fee paid to “designated doctors” be increased to $ 180 per examination and report, plus an extra $ 60 for such a doctor for requesting an additional report from a client’s host or own doctor. Dr Bratt argued that GPs generally and on average earn (or charge) $ 250 an hour. Also did Dr Bratt state that over the 6 months until October 2008 DD reports asked for by WINZ increased by 60 per cent, due to the new approaches taken. I have no information on what increase was ever agreed to, but it must be concluded, that a significant increase occurred, as at one stage I heard of $ 136 per report being paid a few of years ago.
There are also memos and other information showing that Dr Bratt proposed training for ‘Medical Appeal Board’ members. The information shows that Dr Bratt was concerned about board members not focusing strictly and firmly enough on only medical conditions and relevant information on these, and on how health issues impacted on the ability to work. Some other concerns were about the selection of appropriate members, and that panel members were not supposed to “diagnose” or “examine” appellants, only question them and examine medical records and other relevant information to make decisions.
According to MSD’s “official” policies and principles, and certainly according to the law, designated doctors doing reviews under the old sections 44 and 54B (3) and (4) of the Act (now sections 40C, and also 88E (4) and (5)), are supposed to be INDEPENDENT medical professionals providing only truly INDEPENDENT opinions, assessments and advice. Yet, how “independent” would such designated doctors be, while they get “trained”, “hosted” and paid by the very agency asking them to provide “independent” opinions on clients and applicants dependent on welfare support from that agency?
This somehow goes down badly with the principles of natural justice and the law, does it not?
Information obtained under the O.I.A. discloses that almost all designated doctors are nowadays simply common GPs (general practitioners). There was in early 2011 NO psychologist available as a designated doctor, while the Social Security Act does in old sections 44 and 54B (3) and (4) (now ss 40C and 88E (4) and (5)) provide for a “choice” (with good reasons) between a medical practitioner (a specialist doctor, registrar, psychiatrist or GP) and a PSYCHOLOGIST (to presumably examine mental health or psychological conditions and disabilities).
There were in 2011 also only 10 psychiatrists listed nationwide as designated doctors, which hardly meets the needs of sick and disabled with mental health problems, who would be spread across the whole of New Zealand. With about 30 to 40 per cent of invalid’s and sickness beneficiaries at least partly having psychiatric, psychological and/or addiction issues, it is a rather dismissive approach by MSD, to rely largely only on common “generalist” doctors like GPs, when the vast majority of them have NO (or totally insufficient) expertise and qualifications in psychology or psychiatry.
I have been given information by persons affected, who were asked by WINZ case managers to undergo a review by a designated doctor. The Act does offer an affected client or applicant some input, because s 44 and s 54B (3) and (4) (now 40C, and also 88E (4) and (5)) speak of an agreement between WINZ and a client to be attempted on who to see as such a doctor. Yet in at least some (I dare to presume very many) cases, the client is NOT offered any choice and input, and rather gets told by a case manager who to see! That is a breach of the law. Only if there is no agreement at first between an affected client and WINZ, then can WINZ case managers (usually in consultation with a Regional Health or Disability Advisor) propose and appoint a particular “designated doctor”. In many cases a client is only presented a short list of selected designated doctors to pick from, again not offered any sufficient input. In any case, it appears that MSD and WINZ have their preferred designated doctors, which I presume is, because they are more likely to make the decisions WINZ would prefer! A doctor I spoke with confided to me that he knows a colleague who does a very high number of reviews for WINZ. MSD have themselves records, proving that a small percentage of designated doctors handle a very large volume of examinations (assessments) for WINZ.
Also have there been issues with the appointments to so-called Medical Appeal Boards, who under old section 53A (now new s 10B) hear appeals by the former invalid’s and sickness benefit recipients (now ‘Supported Living’ and ‘Jobseeker’ benefits), or applicants for those benefits. Applicants and benefit recipients can appeal against decisions by WINZ staff, that are based on a “designated doctor” recommendations, with which a client may disagree.
There is no further appeal possible after such a board makes a decision. Strangely also many “designated doctors” again sit on such boards, although not the same ones who conducted the disputed assessment or review. Members of such a board are appointed by MSD “medical appeals coordinators”, who are placed in their regional offices.
This is going on under the regime of MSD and their new Principal Health Advisor Dr Bratt, who believes that work is the best kind of “medicine” to assist sick persons on benefits to get well again. Since at least 2010, Dr Bratt appears to have felt very emboldened by the new approach under the new National led government towards social security – and welfare policy in general. He has shown this in the many “presentations” he has since then given, and comments he has made to the media and in public forums.
There is a presentation that Dr Bratt, in that instance “officially” together with his colleague Anne Hawker, that is called ‘Ready, Steady, Crook Are we killing our patients with kindness’, which was given to a GP conference in Christchurch in 2010. IN it he makes bizarre statements like this one on page 13:
“Why these cases?
● in both a patient requested a specific “service”
from you – and these have clinical or health
consequences/outcomes – both positive and
● did you react the same way to each? – the
drug seeker and the benefit seeker?

● and why?“
In the same presentation Dr Bratt then does in further comments on pages 20 (see reference to “opiates”), 21 and 35 link the medical certification for benefit purposes to promoting drug use – with the risk of causing addiction. It culminates in this extreme comparison:
“• the “benefit” – an addictive debilitating drug
with significant adverse effects to both the
patient and their family (whānau) – not
dissimilar to smoking
• and NZ GPs write 350,000 scripts for it every
On page 30 of that presentation (like others that followed) Dr Bratt lists the doctor patient relationship and patient advocacy as “barriers” to “managing health and work issues”!
Dr Bratt has since then continually linked benefit dependence to drug dependence, or made bizarre comparisons between the two. Also has he presented disputed, unproved statistical information, like that about “30 per cent” of GPs “had experienced a sense of threat and intimidation”! This appears to be based on questionable surveys conducted, like the one by ‘NZ Doctor’ magazine, asking ambiguous or too unspecified questions. He repeatedly claims that being on a benefit is as bad for your health as smoking 10 packets of cigarettes a day, and more dangerous than working in the most dangerous jobs (e.g. on an oil drilling platform in the North Sea).
Furthermore has Dr Bratt drawn substantially on supposed “findings” from UK “research”, like the ones conducted by the ones of Professors Gordon Waddell and Mansel Aylward, who both worked for the ‘Unum Provident’ sponsored ‘Centre for Psychosocial & Disability Research’, based at Cardiff University in the UK. Other similarly inclined “experts” like Wessely and Burton also get quoted. Financed by the highly controversial (and repeatedly convicted) US insurance giant, Aylward and Waddell prepared reports that serve as supposed “scientific” evidence, to prove that open employment is both “good for a person’s health” and even “therapeutic”.Much of the research is based on other reports and on statistics that appear to simply have been used selectively to prove a pre-conceived point and message. Their adopted position is that many mental illnesses, same as musculo-skeletal conditions that people suffer from, are mostly only “illness belief”, and therefore medically “unproved”. This “research” has been used by the Department of Work and Pensions in the UK, which was during Mansel Aylward’s employment there as Chief Medical Officer also repeatedly “advised” by the same insurance company, and which then led to disastrous consequences of welfare reforms there, resulting in over 1,100 deaths of those affected in 2011 alone. There is evidence of Professor Aylward’s long relationship to Unum Provident, and he was later appointed as the director of the mentioned “research centre”.
It is not surprising then to find references to those “findings” and other selected “research” in Dr Bratt’s many presentations, interviews and speeches. In this year Dr Bratt has even now started using presentations together with Professor Mansel Aylward, like one which was given to the annual ‘Rotorua GP CME’ in June 2013. Both spoke there and at some other conferences, and held a joint media interview with ‘NZ Doctor Magazine’. Both appear to be working closely together; and Professor Aylward has been advising MSD and the present government on welfare reforms, especially on how to assess and treat sick and disabled.
Below are some links to a presentation and some You Tube videos that show what “presentations” Dr David Bratt made to the Welfare Working Group Forum in 2010:
‘Benefit Sunshine’, PDF presentation by Dr Bratt, see this link:
(this is the more “moderate version” in circulation, there is a longer presentation with more drastic “information” at the end of it!).
For U TUBE Clips and the rest of the article see: