Cape Reinga

Report: Client’s Perspective on Welfare Reform

In 2011, the Government agreed to a programme of work to reform the New Zealand welfare system.

Welfare Reform has been the single biggest change to the Benefit system in NZ in at least 50 years.

As a result an evaluation component was included to assess:

  • whether the Welfare Reform changes were implemented and operating as intended,
  • the impact the changes have had, and
  • what worked and did not work.

The client perspectives evaluation focuses on the effect of the changes from the point of view of Work and Income clients.

This work was undertaken so that the Ministry could continually develop and improve its services.

Subsequent to this work being undertaken in 2014 the Ministry has taken on the feedback, and whilst the reforms were largely well understood by clients, we continue to learn and improve communications with our clients.

Key findings: Client’s Perspective on Welfare Reform

As a qualitative report, the client perspectives evaluation focuses on the effect of the changes from the point of view of Work and Income clients.

The evaluation collected data from clients in three ways: in-depth telephone interviews with 40 clients, brief interviews with 100 clients at three Work and Income sites after they finished their appointments, and feedback forms from 215 clients who attended seminars and workshops.

Many clients reported they were aware of the Welfare Reform changes that affected them, prior to their introduction

  • The evaluation found that many clients had heard about and could identify the changes that were most well-reported in the media: pre-employment drug testing and changes to overseas travel.
  • There was less awareness of other changes that were more targeted (such as social obligations) but generally clients were able to identify the changes that affected them.
  • Clients said they had heard about the changes from a variety of sources, including case managers, letters and phone calls from Work and Income, the media and their friends.

Some clients had misconceptions about how the changes would affect them

  • Some clients had held or still held misconceptions about the content and effect of some of the Welfare Reform changes.
  • For example, some believed that they were not allowed to travel overseas at all. Others initially thought that they would be drug tested to determine whether they were eligible to receive a benefit, but later realised that was not the case.
  • The concerns clients held when they first heard about the changes, such as concerns about privacy and their rights, had not eventuated.

Clients reported they understood what Work and Income expected of them

  • Welfare Reform introduced significant changes in Work and Income’s approach to allocating clients to different services.
  • Information on clients’ situations and service capacity is used to determine what intensity of services is most appropriate for each client. Clients can therefore experience different levels of service over the course of their involvement with Work and Income.
  • As a result some clients included in the study were, correctly, receiving the same service as before the Welfare Reform changes depending on which service they had been allocated to.
  • In discussing the service they received from Work and Income, almost all clients reported that they understood what Work and Income expected of them.
  • Most longer term clients still identified themselves using old benefit names, for example, UB (unemployment benefit), SB (sickness benefit), IB (invalid’s benefit) or even “the dole”.
  • Clients most commonly recalled their case managers discussing job searching and work readiness but also mentioned budgeting and financial awareness.
  • The frequency of contact varied across clients and service levels. Some clients that appeared to have similar circumstances reported very different levels of contact, as expected with different service levels.

Comments were mixed on whether the changes were positive or not, although many clients expressed their appreciation for the support they received from Work and Income

  • Clients did not often link changes in their interactions with Work and Income to Welfare Reform changes.
  • Comments from clients who were able to compare Work and Income service before and after the changes focused on increased contact with case managers and more requirements for evidence to support their entitlement.
  • Comments were mixed on whether the changes were positive or not, though many clients expressed their appreciation for the Work and Income support they received.
  • Some clients held the view that the changes would prevent others from taking advantage of the benefit system because more evidence was required about clients’ situations.
  • Some clients felt that the work expectations were too high given their situations, the opportunities in their locality or what they thought about their capacity to work.

Clients were able to give examples of assistance from Work and Income that might be considered to be steps towards employment, but many did not feel they had made progress unless they had actually found employment

  • Clients often judged their progress by whether they had entered employment or not and did not see themselves as having made progress if they had not achieved employment.
  • Although few clients stated that the Welfare Reform changes had assisted them to progress towards employment, they did give examples of things they had done with Work and Income that appeared to be steps towards work. For example clients described Work and Income’s assistance with preparing CVs and applying for specific jobs.

Clients who had been sanctioned said the experience had encouraged them to swiftly visit their case manager, and had not impacted on their wellbeing

  • The few clients interviewed who said that they had been sanctioned reported that they had quickly fulfilled Work and Income requirements to restore their benefits.
  • While they did not feel that the sanctions had impacted their work search or their wellbeing, receiving notice of the sanction had encouraged a swift visit to their case manager.

Clients were generally positive about workshops and seminars they attended

  • Most clients were positive about workshops and seminars and were able to identify the components they found most useful as well as areas for improvement.
  • Some held negative views and made suggestions for improvement.

The relationship clients have with their case manager appears to be an important factor when clients report on their experience with Work and Income

  • The evaluation findings emphasised the importance of the relationship between the client and their case manager and the potential effects of having clients speak with different case managers.
  • Clients who had built a relationship with a single case manager appeared to be more positive about Work and Income.
  • Overall, many clients made positive comments about the support they received from their case managers including those who did not identify significant changes in the service.