Aucklander Beau De Royce fears she could be forced to work on the streets if her sickness benefit is cut as a result of the Government's sweeping changes to the social security system.
Protesters from Auckland Action Against Poverty picketed three Work and Income (WINZ) offices this morning, at Henderson, Mangere and in the central city, calling the reforms a "brutal assault on the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of children and adults who are dependent on the state for survival".
The changes, which came into force today, represent the biggest upheaval in the welfare state since the Social Security Act was passed by the first Labour Government in 1938.
All sickness beneficiaries, and sole parents and widows with no children under 14, are now subject to the same requirement to look for fulltime work as other jobless people, although sickness may be accepted as a valid reason to postpone work temporarily.
Speaking outside the Queens St WINZ office, where about a dozen people were protesting, sickness beneficiary Ms De Royce said she believed her benefit would be cut as a result.
"They're trying to force us into jobs that we can't even do. I'm going to counselling with ACC - I can't even face people properly; I get too frightened and I hide - and yet they're still trying to push me out into jobs. And that's horrible, that's hard."
Her case officer had tried to get her to work at a call centre, but she said this was not possible for her.
"I don't want to go out pinching, I don't want to go to jail, that's horrible, so the only legal thing I know is prostitution.
"I don't want to go there but if it has to come to that and I don't get a benefit I have to resort to prostitution."
She said her benefit currently left her with about $100 in hand every week after rent and power had been deducted.
Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Sarah Thompson said the changes were aimed at decreasing the number of beneficiaries in New Zealand, rather than job creation.
"All New Zealanders who end up on welfare will have more hoops to jump through or face punitive measures as the Government attempts to push them into low-paid insecure work - no matter what the downstream cost.
"This is not about getting people into decent work [and] it's not about job creation. It's about cutting costs by pushing vulnerable people off the books," she said.
Ms Thompson said there had been an increase in the number of beneficiaries who had been "sanctioned" for slip-ups in the last two months.
Some had also had their benefits reduced due to Work and Income errors.