24 Sep 2012

Hunger striker 'humiliated' by welfare officials

10:00 pm on 24 September 2012

A Northland man on a hunger strike after he was denied a food grant has accused Work and Income of humiliating its clients.

Sam Kuha has not eaten for 11 days, since he smashed two windows at the welfare agency's Kaikohe office the day after he was turned down for emergency help.

The Kaikohe man, 59, travelled 4 kilometres in his wheelchair to the office,

He says he tries to be as self sufficient as possible and he had not reached his allocation of food vouchers for the year.

But because he had already received three small grants this year, he was told to go away and see a budgeter.

The former bushman says a budget advisor had previously gone over his expenses and found no way his $244 benefit would meet them.

He says he'd always worked until he lost a leg and the use of an arm in an accident, and found it humiliating to be constantly referred to budgeters.

"It's humiliating enough to have to go in and ask for a food voucher, but then when they make you go and talk to other people, it's really humiliating, you know you feel like a beggar."

Work and Income says it is reviewing Mr Kuha's needs, and police say he will be charged with intentional damage.

Campaigning GP supportive

A Northland Maori GP who has been outspoken about poverty is offering his support to Mr Kuha

Kaitaia GP Lance O'Sullivan, who is working in Kaikohe this week, says Mr Kuha has asked to see him and he would visit him on Monday night.

He says it appears Mr Kuha has not been listened to, and he's worried by his refusal to eat.

"The important issue is ... why are we letting a situation like this occur ... where a man gets to such a point of desperation that he hits out at the system - the WINZ.

"We need to look at how we are dealing with people who are already in dire straits financially, and have high needs."