Beneficiary Impact: An Overview
Last week Auckland Action Against Poverty held the first ever Beneficiary 'Impact' in Auckland, writes Chris Zack.
This involved a collaboration with over 15 professional advocates from around the north island and in negotiation with MSD we provided streamlined advocacy for the unemployed and low wage workers to receive the full entitlements with Work and Income. The main objectives of the event were the following:
Introduction to the Community
The event was based in Onehunga, chosen as this is where the AAAP office is located and the event overall was an announcement that we are here and have something tangible to offer the community. There was a concerted attempt to engage with the locals, introducing ourselves and the event to churches, organisations, along with postering and flyering houses in the area. We also engaged with some of the larger NGO's that work with poverty issues, such as the Salvation Army, as a means of bringing in some people who may need a bit of help.
Training on the job for our volunteer advocates
AAAP is currently in the beginning stages of implementing a Direct Action Casework program, and the Impact had a side benefit of being an excellent training opportunity for our volunteer advocates. Though not DAC, the Impact had an element of challenging Work and Income and we did make an effort when capacity allowed to introduce people to AAAP and to politicse the situation when we could.
So another way to look at it is that the Impact was the first step for us to get ready to go with DAC in the new year.
As AAAP is primarily interested in political change, we aimed to politicise the event as best we could. The second day had a “Recession buster” public rally across the road from Work and Income. We invited political parties represented in Parliament to come speak about their welfare and poverty reduction policies. Representatives from Mana, Labour and Greens came along, and these speakers were interspersed with speakers from AAAP, Living Wage campaign, First Union and some locals. This rally held a small march down the road to put a “jobs wanted” sign on the National Party office. The rally aimed to be introductory, inclusive and done in such a way as to encourage community members and beneficiaries to engage with issues that directly effect them.
A media strategy was put together pre-Impact. In addition to local radio stations we had adverts and a story in the local Onehunga paper, and an exclusive with the Sunday Star Times.
An 'introduction to AAAP' follow up meeting had been organised in order to capitalise on all the interest in the group, and AAAP was active on informing beneficiaries that we are here to work with them and encourage their involvement.
The Impact was an incredibly successful event in many ways. On a basic level, the logistics of hosting such an event took many many hours and the preparation work paid off in a fairly smooth three days work.
We provided advocacy for 175 people, with all sorts of small victories including food grants, housing bonds to grants for various appliances. In my opinion one of the main successes was the change in the environment at Work and Income as a result of AAAP being there:
“You would not believe it. Presently I depend on WINZ again.
I could not attend the event, due to other commitments, but due to some other matter, I had to drop a form off at the Onehunga WINZ office late afternoon. UNBELIEVABLE! I have NEVER been treated with such courtesy, respect and dignity by any of the staff there, since I ever had to deal with them years ago!
I saw the advocates and Sue Bradford talking with some journalist. I had little time, so did not stop to chat. But anyway, inside WINZ, the atmosphere was subdued, at the same time every staff member appeared to be so “hard working” and worried about all needs of anyone coming in to be looked after, this has NEVER been like this before.
At the reception I was greeted by my name, instantly by a case manager who knows me well, and also later by another one, who I even flew off at once.
What a MIRACLE AAAP’s presence has created there for all beneficiaries, to suddenly being taken so seriously, treated fairly, listened to and feeling acknowledged once for all.
The whole service offered there at present, plus the little demo in the lunchtime and early afternoon time, this has sent a great, welcome message home to WINZ and the beneficiaries in the area!
THANK YOU SO MUCH, ALL OF YOU AT AUCKLAND ACTION AGAINST POVERTY!
This is recommendable, and I hope other advocacy services will learn from this and follow this up in front of other WINZ offices all over the country.”
Some other experiences at the Impact:
“Got a food grant, had NO IDEA I was entitled to it as I'm working. I'm a bit suspicious of free stuff, but AAAP are great people!”
“I've just got on the unemployment benefit. Thought I had everything I could get, but didn't know about a food grant. We'll be having a decent feed for X-mas!”
“My business was shut down and I lost everything. I managed to get my 6 staff jobs with another company but Work and Income was not there to help me. The AAAP team helped me understand the next steps I need to take to ensure Work and Income follows the rules.”
“I've never heard so many people laughing in a Work and Income before!”
“This is exactly the kind of activism we need. One that provides something for people, but is also challenging things head on.”
We have managed to build some links with various organisations in the area and considering how much our phone is currently ringing, have introduced ourselves well enough to those living in the community.
As already mentioned, the training that AAAP volunteer advocates received will be invaluable as we continue without the direct help of the out of town advocates who were at the Impact.
The rally was small but respectable considering it was at 12:00 on a Tuesday afternoon. The numbers of beneficiary and community members who came along were bolstered by strong support from AAAP's friends in the union movement.
Problems and learnings
Numbers in attendance was a bit of an issue, especially on the first day of the Impact. There was considerable discussion around exactly how much advertising we should do. If too much, perhaps we would end up with hundreds more than we could accommodate. If too little, we could be left with the embarrassing situation of nobody turning up. Striking a balance was difficult. The initial lull in numbers picked up on the second and third day luckily.
We had varied success with media. Our pre-impact media strategy saw some decent coverage, but beyond some radio, the three days of the Impact saw not very much attention. During the 'Recession Buster' rally there was only one small tv station in attendance even though Jacinda Ardern form Labour, John Minto from Mana and Jan Logie from the Greens were in attendance.