Friday, July 26, 2013

On being a case manager

Unusually, I was reading the comments thread after a piece on Stuff about 35 WINZ roles going. Resentment against case managers led to some taking a celebratory position (even though the roles aren't case managers - most readers don't actually READ).

Anyway the following comment caught my eye:

The ignorance of some of these comments is astounding. I used to be a DPB case manager in Porirua with a caseload of 136 clients. Most were lovely people who were victims of circumstance, but some were nasty pieces of work. Threats of violence, nothing you did was enough for them because of their sense of entitlement. The fraudsters, those that chose benefits as a lifestyle. Yet you still bust a gut to help them within the bounds of legislation. Hard not to be pissed that some were making more than you on the benefit ($26,250 was my salary. Ludicrous).

Until you've been on the other side of the desk, don't make assumptions about the lack of empathy of your average case manager. They feel overworked, stressed, carry great responsibility and are bound by lots of red tape. Most are in the job to genuinely help people, but when you get crapped on repeatedly, it's hard not to become cynical. Best of luck to them. And some of you need to develop empathy of your own.

The comment appears genuine. The caseload ratio  and salary look credible. And contrary to what people believe about me, I'm sure that most people on the DPB are perfectly nice people. Most I've come across are. I still  hold fast to the idea nevertheless, that the DPB hasn't improved their lives. The benefit itself probably created the "circumstance" that resulted in their dependency.

Yet again I wonder at the size of the second group she (more likely than 'he') describes. I once put the question to a close relative who spent some years working for social welfare on the front-line. That was back in the late70s/early 80s and times have changed. But he estimated around one third to a half were people exploiting the system. A handful were downright dangerous to deal with.

But see the real problem revealed within the comment above. The very people who know that someone is 'misusing' welfare have to play along. They are bound.

Whereas, in the non-government sector, a volunteer agency, services can be withdrawn when the 'client' isn't 'coming to the party'. The managers of an agency I volunteered with eventually made that call on a couple of my cases, to my relief.

To a degree, the new welfare reforms are an attempt to give case managers that facility. To sort the wheat from the chaff and act accordingly. The threat of a benefit cut when people won't take a job or meet an obligation is not entirely new. Under Labour, sanctions were routinely used. But the range of obligations and persons they apply to is now much wider.

As in any organisation, some will abuse power. Let's hope the majority of case managers reflect the one quoted here who sounds like a reasonable, compassionate individual.


Anonymous said...

The use of the word "client" is in itself a misnomer in this context. "Client" to me suggests a party who orders and pays for a commodity or a service. Recipient is a preferable term.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

Quite right. I shouldn't get sucked into the PC terminology.

S. Beast said...

The whole Stuff story is a beat up. Work and Income shift staff around all the time and staff are constantly drowning in workload - nothing new hear.

As for your CM, not sure how seriously anyone can take a comment from someone who's handle is named after a sociopathic Mexican drug kingpin, especially given the nature of the story.

This from "Melcraig" in reply:
Speaking of nasty pieces of work... I have been in the horrible position of needing to deal with WINZ, and while some of the staff were lovely, a large portion really were, in your words, nasty pieces of work.

S. Beast said...

And another one:

"God's Gift"
Having been on both sides of the counter (Case Manager and client) I can safely say that you don't know what you're talking about Max. There is criteria to be met so that people DON'T rip off the system so yes sometimes you have to provide evidence of your circumstances. Giving away money is a big deal so yep you gotta prove you're entitled otherwise there would be even more benefit fraud.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

S Beast, Fraud is one thing. Misuse is another. When I describe people as exploiting or misusing welfare they may well be staying within the parameters of their legal entitlements.

But they don't merit assistance and make it harder for genuine cases.

Anonymous said...

As long as society in general tolerates irresponsibility & dishonesty there will be a need for sole parents to have support while they get on there feet.Most couples with children struggle financially and otherwise.How do you figure the average sole parent without help will manage.My experience is that no one gives a damn about solo mothers especially.Solo dads get a lot more support and sympathy.Solo mums are the equivilent to witches of the past.