A solo mother living on welfare is warning Kiwis who may be looking to the benefit if they've lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic that they could be in for a "real shock" around relationship rules.
Hannah McGowan shared her personal story this morning on TVNZ1's Breakfast, saying she has struggled to find a steady income due to living with Crohn's disease - a long-term inflammatory disease of the bowel.
"Pre-Covid-19, I was on a supported living payment because I've got Crohn's disease, I've got a central nervous system pain disorder, PTSD - it's very hard for me to find appropriate work," Ms McGowan said.
"My immune system is just non-existant because of the chemotherapy I get every eight weeks, but I was doing pretty well building up a writing career last year but of course, it's not a good time to be a writer right now."
Despite those obstacles, Ms McGowan said the most difficult thing in her life was living without being allowed to have any kind of emotional support due to the current rules around relationships and the benefit.
"You can't even have a close relationship with anyone because you're worried someone might perceive that friendship as a relationship and they'll dob you in and you know you're being investigated which is a terrifying thought for someone vulnerable like myself," she said.
"It becomes really complicated. If you want to be in a relationship with someone, essentially one of you, whoever is working, will need to support you and your family - you cannot retain your income as a beneficiary, you have to rely on somebody else who needs to support you all the way.
"You're effectively being penalised for being in a relationship so you're not allowed to love and to care and to build this firm networks of support."
Ms McGowan said that way of thinking needs to be changed now more than ever with more New Zealanders likely to look towards the benefit after losing jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.
"They're going to be in for a real shock because basically any kind of relationship that you've got with someone, even if it's not sexual or you both have a very low income, you might be forced to choose between that and having some income to survive.
"It destroys families."
That's why Ms McGowan is hoping the Government will look at making the benefit system more personal for New Zealanders with each story, such as her own, heard and understood so she can have both financial and emotional support.
"In this pandemic we've seen the Government has the power to make these bold changes so I am hoping they choose to prioritize the wellbeing of the nation at this really challenging time that's so stressful.
"It would be so nice to have someone in my life that I can share my love of art, music and film with, someone I could cuddle up with when it's cold.
"It would be lovely to someone to get through this with but I can't take that risk even if I could someone to be in my bubble."