Wellington Women’s Refuge Oral Submission on the Future Focus Bill

You will have seen from our submission that there is plenty of evidence supporting the idea work testing has very limited value in terms of reducing beneficiary numbers, but we are here not to talk about numbers because refuge is not a business based on numbers it is based people and more specifically women and children who have experienced violence and abuse at home.

We already know there is a huge stigma around DV, police estimate only 18% of domestic violence is ever reported, yet the 18% that is reported makes up half of police call outs and given there are on average 55,000 children present at those call outs the number the numbers of women and children living with abuse in NZ is huge, we need the select committee to understand that as a jumping off point.

Why women don’t leave is something we are asked constantly, one of the main reasons one is fear, and that fear isn’t so much of physical harm though that is part of it, but more the fear of not being able to survive and never being free of their abuser.

The publicity around this bill has had a hugely stigmatising effect we need you to understand how important it is to us that the DPB is seen by women as a viable option not that it is the hiding place of those to lazy to work.

There are very few things in our society that try to make the fight fair between those who abuse and their victims, and along with protection orders the DBP is the only really useful tool we have as refuge workers to support a woman to see a way out for herself and her children.

There are few refuge phone workers who have not experienced the desperation of the first time a woman makes contact, the sense I get in those calls is how trapped she is, where ever she goes he will find her, she will have nothing because he earns more, because he says he will take everything, because she has no money he will take her children, he will use the courts, CYFS, police, mental health services and WINZ to tell the world she is an unfit mother, a benefit fraud, a crazy woman and she knows he will do it.

Our job as refuge workers is to support her to see there are ways to live free from the abuse, our government’s job is to protect these options so she can live free of violence, we are at the moment a society that pays lip service the idea abuse is not ok. If this sounds unfair or dramatic in the past couple of months alone we have heard directly of women in this country who have been told to leave their tertiary studies by the institution after being assaulted on campus, on the grounds it was too dangerous for other students to have her there, we have had a woman whose boss refused to make allowances for absence following a knife attack, even when a refuge worker intervened to explain the high risk situation, the manger’s attitude was ‘well I told her she should have left him months ago’, we have women who have been stalked at work and then faced abuse for serving male customers, women tracked down through WINZ systems, women who have lost temp jobs as all their photo id has been destroyed or confiscated by their ex partners, women who have had their professional reputations shredded to the point they cannot continue at their work.

WE have worked with many women who the ongoing abuse they have faced has meant the journey out for them and their children will be long, isolated and full of setbacks.  But if there is support she stands a really good chance of doing it.

But if women who have tried to keep work but have been thwarted, who have no references, no recent experience, whose bosses judge them for staying, for women who are fearful that they will be forced to take work where there is no child care and what the consequences of that might be, or her children are not special needs but are struggling to cope following abuse, or for women who envisage having a benefit already set below the poverty line slashed because they don’t think they are good enough to ever be offered work, they won’t even try, and then the government will pay anyway each time they go to A&E, call the police, require mental health support to cope .

Our societies attitudes towards abused women and children are often unfair and unreasonable, our governments shouldn’t be, we oppose this bill we want to see the work testing scrapped, the threat of cutting benefits dropped, to allow the slashing of benefits by those who administer them is to give arbitrary power to unqualified to be making such calls. What the 55,000 children that police do see at call outs deserve is a carer who is well supported by our systems so they are able to provide consistency and nurture their families after the chaos of violence, DPB is this option.

Yay for Refuge Advocacy!

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