by PETER GRACE
AUCKLAND — The centre of gravity shifted in Mangere from August 5 to 7 as hundreds of people crowded over the footpath, into the foyer and into a huge room each day at the WINZ Mangere
office.
The drawcard was the presence of 30 or more trained benefit advocates, supported by two dozen extra WINZ staff — help that was arranged by Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP).

From left, AAAP advocacy coordinator Alastair Russell with Michael Joseph Baker and Papa Dee, both of whom were looking for help with benefit payments.

NZ Catholic talked to AAAP advocacy coordinator Alastair Russell on August 7. Because he was not allowed to talk to media inside, he made his way through the 250 or so waiting people. To cover 20 metres took about 15 minutes, as every couple of metres someone seemed to want advice, runners (volunteers carrying messages) wanted to discuss something, and almost everyone else was keen to get their name on the list he was carrying.
It was not even 10.30 and, once outside, Mr Russell explained that he almost had a full quota of names of beneficiaries for the day.
“People get their name on the list, and then they get called when you get back to them,” he said.
It was obvious that those getting on the list now were not going to be seen before mid-afternoon.
“On Tuesday we saw 142 people. Yesterday, over 400 came by midday,and we saw around about 170.
Over the last two days we will have seen over 300.”
Mr Russell estimated that up to another 250 people had turned up on the final day.
“Our purpose is, we have 30 trained advocates here. WINZ have 24 case managers here additional
to what they normally have.”
The aim of AAAP, he said, is to talk to and help as many as possible of the people, so they are able to access their full and correct benefit entitlements.
According to NZ Catholic calculations, advocates might have seen a little over 500 people in
three days, meaning more than 400 will have queued without success.
Mr Russell said they hoped they could get the names of those people, so they could do some
follow-up at a later date.
NZ Catholic asked if the overwhelming turnout meant the benefit system was too complex.
Mr Russell said it is not complex. “It’s designed to intimidate the unemployed.”
Mr Russell said AAAP is a rights-based organisation. “We work with people. The members of
AAAP are either on benefits themselves, or have experience themselves of unemployment.
“Paula Bennett was earlier this year talking about how the unemployed were able to take trips to the Gold Coast. I don’t believe anybody here has had an overseas holiday,” he said.

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