Intro: One of the great things about New Zealand for a creative writer is that anyone who is alternately chronically depressed and anxious about the state of the world, and having to live in it — as any artist worth his salt is — can collect a social welfare benefit. One of the crap things about New Zealand is that the British class system still shows through, health insurance can only be afforded by the wealthy and real Accident Compensation is most readily accessed by the lawyers of the wealthy. The rest of us so-called disabled or health-disadvantaged who don’t fit into society try to exist on tiny ‘benefits’. My particular disadvantage that makes me virtually unemployable is also my vocation: telling the absolute truth, unvarnished. Below there follows an article that was rejected by the director of my own ‘caregiver’ organization, Crossroads, an associate member in Auckland of the international Clubhouse movement. It was said to be ‘caustic’ — and this is a disqualifier for censorship? — but more to the point contains some home truths about Crossroads’ funder, the Auckland District Health Board. Intended for its bi-monthly Chatters magazine, it has been lightly edited for purposes of comprehension outside New Zealand.
It’s a great idea that people who have had breakdowns be encouraged to work — if they are able. At something stimulating, not work a machine can do. A longtime friend of mine who qualified as a fine artist in the ultra-demanding degree course at Elam Art School, disowned for many years by his family, has worked forever at the so-called welfare organisation Wrap’n’Pak, $3/hour drudgery. This is a criminal waste, even diabolical punishment given his high ability, high standards of excellence he places on himself and concomitant low threshold of frustration.<p>
Global capitalism deems 15% of people expendable from the workforce. A job could be a lifesaver if: 1) the pay is reasonable; 2) hours aren’t split so pay goes on travel expenses; 3) you don’t get fired for no particular reason a day short of your three-months probation (an employer-friendly law passed by the National Government last year). Problem is there are precious few jobs in New Zealand today where even one of these criteria holds true.<p> And applicants deemed subject to mental defect will find few employers rushing to shoulder-tap them for their lack of experience over recent years. The job market for us has become a constant grind of proving yourself again and again, like touting for a mega appearance fee in showbiz: “Yeah, but what have you done lately?” And we have virtually no prospect of gaining experience that means anything in the demanding job market.
Government says it wants us to work but, coming from the moral high ground of conservatives maybe it just wants someone to hound. Some people’s lives aren’t worth living unless they have others around whom they can grind down through biased policies, then tell to pull their socks up and buy some shares in assets the public already owns by paying taxes.<p>
The Mainstream Employment program numbers just 200 lucky souls throughout the country and I now see why. I was approved for the program May 2011, did an employment course and was given a job agent to help with my c.v. (resumee) and find work for me. My agent is very conscientious — thanks Cherie of Elevator! She is a stick-to-it American go-getter from Gainesville, Florida settled here for the past two years after a period living in Ireland. Me? — I’m okay, actually thinking of trying another agency called Workshy, where, knowing the situation, they just put their feet up and collect a steady salary. It’s part of my makeup that when people tell me to “Hurry up and wait” — and nothing appears after a year or so — I tend to hibernate to keep from breaking out in stress-induced blistering face shingles. Yet, I know if a job does come in I’ll have to rev up and hit the ground running: one more stress. My g.p. insists I am not capable of open employment, and should only work up to 15 hours a week at a suitable job in a suitable environment. Of course, I do much more than that weekly, writing and editing various projects on the go.<p>
Three employers had my c.v. for five months before giving me thumbs down. A Head of Department at my old university (Auckland) finally said she didn’t have time to support me on the job. Support? — I’m a self-starter. What was looking the likeliest prospect — a job with the ADHB (Auckland District Health Board) — has been put on indefinite hold. The particular workplace, Starship Children’s Hospital, started just two other people with disabilities in jobs until the DHB sees how they do. My suitability is judged on the work of others. This is wrong under UN Human Rights resolutions, plain commonsense and the Cub Scouts Code for all I know. Is this to save on diagnosing, assuming we all have the same shortcomings? One scrapheap fits all? If one of the two lucky ones given jobs goes berserk and starts shooting, are we in the queue automatically arrested, or just given the boot from any job prospects? I can’t help reflecting that this isn’t the future my mother planned for me when she carried me for nine months, raised me 18 years solo and made untold sacrifices. Just to be shot down on the whim of a bureaucrat?<p>
This is all part of the stigma, isn’t it, from the government down — no matter what they say. It’s a widespread government policy ghettoing people deemed mentally suspect for being different, unable to be boxed in as a specific economic cog in the scheme of things as they visualize it. You can’t claim ACC (Accident Compensation Commission) — Your destiny is a bennie. This is a discriminatory practice that seems to be just accepted, just because. That is, unless you can tell the doctors the precise single incident that caused your breakdown, or the proximate cause, maybe the remote causes going back to childhood, beyond to genetics, likely the largest component. We human sacrifices are left struggling on inadequate pay, facing condemning social stigma, unfit and undeserving of work — a lifelong sentence for some. In the past year I have lost five friends — not just fellow ‘clients’ but people I socialized with in my own time — including two who chose not to live out their full sentence; one aged 34, the other 46; both so intelligent and functionally capable, with so much individual initiative that was left unrecognized or simply neglected.<p>
No lowlife bennie for a certain Ms in the news recently. Lent the ears of ministers and prime ministers for 10 years, she just wants more — compo, that is, on top of her “very large” insurance payout to sweeten the pot. Her ACC windfall needs to be much more to maintain her in the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed. After all, it’s not like the rest of us had lifestyles to lose.<p>
Is this the luck of the draw? Hardly. Are some people more deserving? — Nope. So in the words of Hal David, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” I suspect just old-fashioned greed. Thems that haves, gets. — Gaz De Forest