6 Sep 2014

'Underlying stress in benefit system'

9:10 am on 6 September 2014

Beneficiary advocates say threats and attacks against frontline Work and Income staff point to underlying stress in the benefit system.

A candle-lit vigil for the victims of Monday's shootings.

Photo: RNZ / Jemma Brackebush

Monday's fatal shootings at Ashburton's Work and Income office, in which two women died and another was seriously injured, have been followed by a rash of threats against other Work and Income offices.

Since the attack, threats to other Work and Income staff around the country have resulted in five arrests.

Helen Gatyoni from the Tenants Protection Association in Christchurch, who works out of Work and Income's Linwood community hub, said Work and Income workers were often subjected to horrible verbal abuse.

She said many people seeking help are very frustrated, and it took little to trigger an outburst sometimes.

"The people coming in are at their wit's end, they're just so tired and frustrated at the lives they're found themselves in."

Ms Gatyoni said to stop situations becoming volatile, earlier intervention was needed.

Co-chair of the Coalition to End Homelessness Corie Haddock said Work and Income staff are doing a great job but are dealing with desperate people.

"What we need to see more of is working collectively with not-for-profit and community agencies to ensure that needs of the individuals are being first."

Ashburton shooting

A scene examination takes places following the Ashburton shooting. Photo: RNZ / Jemma Brackebush

Mr Haddock, who is also the Labour Party candidate in Helensville, said the Government had refused to recognise homelessness being a problem and a national strategy was needed.

Yesterday a handful of protesters in Hamilton accused Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, has been accused of having blood on her hands over the killings.

One of the protesters Kyro Selket said she was deeply disturbed by the shooting - both for the victims and about what it said about New Zealand society.

"I think we should be increasing advocates for beneficiaries and I think we should be increasing benefits."

She said Ms Bennett's government was waging war on the poor.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs