Freud was famously quoted (or possibly mis-quoted, translating from German to English can be a bit tricky) as saying his definition of good mental health, or “normal neurosis” was to “Live, love and work.”
It seems John Key’s definition is much simpler: Work.
Both our Prime Minister and the current Minister for the ACC have both revealed their lack of understanding of the world of disability and welfare by their answers to recent questions about the performance based targets at the ACC:
“She [Ms. Collins] said measures that helped ACC encourage people back into work where appropriate were “a good thing”. NZ Herald, June 22, 2012.
This was further reinforced with yesterday’s announcement that WINZ will have a target of reducing the number of long term beneficiaries by 30%. No word on where the jobs, training or rehabilitation to facilitate this will come from. Just a number. 30%, gone, by 2017.
These measures will also be accompanied by financial bonuses to WINZ teams for achieving these targets. Not only is it astounding that this announcement could be made at the same time as there is a public outcry about the very same practice at the ACC, but it also further distorts a system meant to be about helping and supporting people.
So here’s another number. This document shows that as of March 31 2012, 42% of sickness beneficiaries were suffering from “psychological or psychiatric conditions.” So nearly half of that 30% targeted will be people who suffer from some form of mental illness.
What these numbers, and the “fruit picking” at the ACC (see “Low hanging fruit”) seems to discount is the very real incapacity caused by “invisible injuries” and that those afflicted with psychological injuries are on a benefit and not working not because they choose to: but because they need to be.
And just deciding that they should work, won’t actually make it happen.
I think it can be very hard for some, our current Prime Minister included, to understand the complexity of how psychological injuries, trauma, poverty and disempowerment combine to leave people in a state where they can’t function, can’t Live, Love OR Work. And in place of understanding the complexity comes an absence of compassion and a heartless oversimplification. In therapeutic terms this is a defence against the very painful and unpalatable reality of how some members of our society have been disabled by the events of their lives and their childhoods.
Whether it be at the ACC or WINZ, providing bonuses to case managers for getting long term “clients” off the books rewards this very heartlessness and punishes compassion. And that most definitely is a culture problem, not just at the ACC and WINZ, but in the National Cabinet that presides over them.
You see, the ACC was never meant to be “workplace insurance”. It was meant to provide fairness and balance from all of us, to all of us. It was also initially intended to cover incapacity due to “sickness”; what are now sickness beneficiaries with WINZ, and part of the “30%”
Who better to explain this than Sir Owen Woodhouse, the Judge who was the architect of the original Accident Compensation scheme:
“His [Sir Woodhouse’s]advice to those who want to revamp ACC is very simple:
“When you are peering into the future it is not at all a bad idea to remember where you have been… …The social responsibilities which underpin ACC ought never to be tested by clever equations, or brushed to one side by economic dogma… …In the end, they depend on decent fellow feeling and the ideas and ideals that support it.” National Business Review, June 25, 2012
Work as a gross outcome is not a fair or decent measure, simply an economic one. It tells me very little about whether a person has adjusted to their change of circumstances, recovered from their trauma, or is a happy well balanced member of society. It only says: as a society we have found a legal argument that means we don’t have to pay for you anymore, and so we won’t.
And that doesn’t work for me.