Hunger strike goes on

By Amanda Snow

Sam Kuha said he was raising a daughter and ran a business so asking for food assistance didn't come easy. Photo / APN
Sam Kuha said he was raising a daughter and ran a business so asking for food assistance didn't come easy. Photo / APN

No budgeting, no money: Winz policy strains service

People desperate for food grants are being told to meet budget advisers before getting a handout. But one expert says they may struggle to get an urgent appointment because of the workload.

The issue has been pushed into the spotlight after a wheelchair-bound man smashed the front windows of the Kaikohe Work and Income office with a sledgehammer.

Sam Kuha, who is on his 10th day of a hunger strike and struggling to stay warm or sleep, says there is little left of his $244 a week benefit after food and expenses and he was being denied urgent help.

He travelled 4km in his electric wheelchair to request a food voucher at the Kaikohe Winz office, but was referred to budgeting services because he had already had three handouts.

"I've been treated miserably. Every time I have to go there it takes a piece of my spirit. I wouldn't go if I didn't absolutely have to," Kuha said.

Federation of Family Budgeting chief executive Raewyn Fox believed a manager could have used discretion to issue the grant. She said increasing referrals from Winz were running case managers off their feet. In some areas, waiting lists were two months long.

"We've gained an extra 20,000 clients in the past two years but with no staff or funding increases to cope."

She said people were required only to undertake a "budgeting activity", not necessarily with an adviser, and getting that message through to clients would help clear the backlog.

Kuha was run over by a car 20 years ago and lost an arm and a leg. He said he was raising a daughter and ran a business so asking for food assistance didn't come easy.

He smashed the windows of the office last Tuesday "not in a fit of rage but to draw attention to the process around food grants", he said.

Northland doctor Lance O'Sullivan will tomorrow visit Kuha, describing his hunger strike as a "desperate act by a desperate man". "It's incredibly wrong people need to get to this position before someone pays attention to their plight."

The Northland commissioner for social development, Ski Wisnesky, said staff were working to ensure Kuha got the services he needed but his actions on Tuesday could not be condoned.

Police said Kuha would be charged and appear at the Kaikohe District Court on September 28.

- Herald on Sunday

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