Hunger striker convicted over Winz damage

By Peter de Graaf of the Northern Advocate

Sam Kuha. Photo / Peter De Graaf
Sam Kuha. Photo / Peter De Graaf

A Far North man who went on a hunger strike over Work and Income's food grant policy has been convicted and discharged for smashing two windows at the agency's Kaikohe office.

Sam Kuha, 59, has already agreed to pay the $480 repair bill at $10 a week.

The Kaikohe invalid beneficiary went to the Winz office on September 14 last year to apply for an emergency grant after running out of food and money.

He was told he had to see a budgeter first, but had to wait three weeks for an appointment.

He went on hunger strike and four days later made the 4km trek into town on his electric wheelchair to draw attention to his protest with a sledgehammer.

He ended his hunger strike 30 days later when Social Development Minister Paula Bennett agreed to hear his concerns face-to-face.

In Kaikohe District Court today, Judge Greg Davis accepted lawyer Steve Nicholson's request for a conviction and discharge.

Kuha had agreed to pay for the windows, had admitted a charge of wilful damage, and had been punished enough by having his personal life dragged through newspapers and TV, he said.

"But it is important to reiterate that to express one's frustration at a government agency in the manner you did is not an appropriate way to conduct yourself."

Judge Davis noted that Kuha's benefit had increased by 41 per cent because he was now receiving his full entitlement.

Afterwards Mr Kuha said he was glad it was over and satisfied he had achieved his goals. Invalids, many worse off than him, no longer had to traipse around town collecting documentation but could deal with Winz by email; and beneficiaries would no longer be denied food grants while waiting to see a budgeter, which meant fewer children would go hungry.

Mr Nicholson said Kuha's circumstances had improved markedly and he had been able to show the minister that Winz staff were not applying the agency's own policies around food grant discretion. The agency had also ignored almost every one of the 21 bullet-points in its list of standards for dealing with clients, he said.

- APNZ

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