Whakatane Work & Income Office

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ETHNOGRAPHIC DESCRIPTION (What did you observe? What struck you as particularly interesting? What elements are you going to focus on?):

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This ethnographic description is an observation of Whakatane Work and Income office environment, I went about my research through a 50minute observation at the Work and Income office situated in Whakatane on Tuesday 27th November 2018 at 11am to 11.50am. The elements I am going to focus on is human behaviour between the client and the officer.

The Work & Income office is situated in the main township of Whakatane and is close neighbours to The Police Station and The Court House. It is a new looking building, it is placed on an empty lot with much of the space taken up with car spaces and small easy to maintain gardens. Approaching the front entrance there are 2 security guards who greet you and open the doors for you. You immediately step into the buildings main waiting area with a lot of big windows and a very high ceiling, big grey and white tiles covers the floor. The waiting area consists of bench type seating small play area for the children and a floor to ceiling double opening doors which leads into the Work and Income reception area. To the left of the Work and Income double doors is a staircase leading to upstairs organizations such as Youth Justice, CYF’s, Anamata (adult education) Oranga Tamariki.

I seated myself in the main waiting area in such a way so I could observe directly into Work and Income office, the front main door, and the staircase. lots of natural light in the room, I could see twelve curvy shaped modern looking desks, scattered around the room each with a computer and 1 seat for the officer and the opposite side of the desk are two seats for the client and I assumed a support person or partner. There are four computer stations for clients to use to access job opportunities, one main reception desk and 1 security guard standing directly behind the receptionist, playing on his phone.

I approached the front receptionist and asked receptionist if I could use the computer to look for work, she said that anyone from the public have access to the computers, I spent the remainder of my observation at the computer station. I noticed that everyone that entered the work and income area were dressed in the same manner, sandals or tennis shoes, trackpants or jeans, t shirt or hoodie.

What are the people you are observing doing in general or attempting to accomplish: The types of people were all different individual members of society, I became curious when I spotted a young lady approximately 17 – 18 years-old waiting for her Work and Income case manager to return. She sits awkwardly with a little baby boy (I assume is her son) asleep in the pram beside her, I noticed the way the young lady was admiring the sleeping baby. The case manager returns and is attempting to engage her by firing questions at the young lady, but it was plain to see that the young lady was comprehensive about this as I am sure that the young lady was in an unfamiliar environment.

The young lady became teary and raised her voice I need help for food, the officer replied “sorry” you will have to wait till your benefit is approved, maybe you can ask your parents for help, the young lady replied they disowned me because I decided to keep my baby. The security guard headed towards the young lady, but she was already in the motion of quickly wiping the tears from her face, took hold of her pram and walked out of the office, head down and holding back the tears. I observed four people declined for food grants, as the computer station is situated next to the receptionist. I was confused why the staff didn’t refer them to food bank, but it was a straight out (you’ve used your entitlement to food voucher) we can’t help you. People walked out just the same as the young lady, head down with a (what am I going to do now) look on their face. The behaviour from the clients were consistent, they were at the work and income office for help wither it be financial (payments being stopped, failure to hand in forms) or in the form of food grants. The staff are as consistent as the clients (No we can’t help you) or very minimum help which is why the clients are there in the first place. The approach of the staff is quite abrupt and lacks empathy regarding the client’s situation. I felt that everyone is treated and looked upon as a beneficiary or here for something, once entering the work and income office. The whole time I was there the security guard was focused on his phone, I asked him what he was playing, he smiled and said (Candy Crush)

PROPOSED ANALYSIS (what anthropological concepts are you going to use to make sense of the above? What kind of explanation are you going to offer?):

I have used the following concepts to help me make sense of my observation at Whakatane Work & Income Office, utilising Rawls two principles of justice (Liberty & Equality) Rawls states “Together, they dictate that society should be structured so that the greatest possible amount of liberty is given to its members, Secondly, inequalities either social or economic are only to be allowed if the worst off will be better off than they might be under an equal distribution”

I also chose Ethnicity based on the society in which one lives. Culture as it deals with human culture especially with respect to social structure belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.

A society because I am dealing with group of individuals involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same geographical or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations.

Poverty is often a vicious circle, people in poverty (whether they are on low wages or on benefits) have fewer opportunities and resources, which in turn translates into less education, fewer job skills and an increased chance of needing benefits as adults. I have always believed that the best solution for poverty is to initially create decent paying jobs.

It is clearly important that people break their dependency on welfare by gaining employment and therefore gaining access to stable incomes which allows them to risk manage their own lives. Creating opportunities for steady employment at reasonable wages is the best way to take people out of poverty. I totally agree with John Rawls who commented in A Theory of Justice that a just society will ensure “full employment in the sense that anyone who wants to work will be able to do so.” His commitment to full employment never wavered, and he noted in Political Liberalism that lack of the opportunity for meaningful work and occupation is destructive of citizens’ self-respect.”

I would examine a practical ethical framework which Work & Income could implement into their current framework concentrating on Employment or Self Employment for clients. I would also research Australia Centrelink and compare frameworks as Australia Centrelink have great systems in place at there offices which focus on employment.

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Whakatane Work & Income Office. (2019, Jun 24). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from

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