I told a lie to claim benefits. Now I am an MP and I want to tell you why : Guardian.

A homeless person in the centre of Auckland.
A homeless person in the centre of Auckland. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Last weekend I revealed a lie, a lie that I decided to talk about because of the situation we as a society find ourselves in.

I am the co-leader of the Green party of Aotearoa New Zealand – the third biggest political party in our small democracy. We are two months from our general election, and we’re in a tight tussle to change the government.

Over the weekend, at our party’s AGM, we launched an incomes policy which would create the most significant changes to New Zealand’s welfare system in a generation. It’s a comprehensive piece of work that rolls back many of the benefit cuts and sanctions that have been put in place by successive governments in New Zealand (some of which are mirrored in other countries).

 

I decided this weekend I would tell supporters, the media and the country that two decades ago I lied to a government ministry while I was receiving a benefit.

This is why I did it.

I had my daughter, Piupiu, at 22. I was a single, young mum with no formal education qualifications. After she was born, I knew I needed to forge a career for myself so that I could financially support us and give my girl the best life possible. I made the choice to go to law school.

Over five years, I received a training incentive allowance (a benefit that has since been ditched by our current government), as well as a payment for single parents. I also had help from my family, and my daughter’s father’s family.

Despite all that support, which is much more than many people in similar circumstances have, I did not have enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table. And so, like many – but not all – people faced with that choice, I lied to survive.

I lived in a few flats over the years with a few different flatmates. I didn’t tell the government department in charge of my benefit about some of those flatmates. If I had, my benefit would have been reduced, and I would not have had enough money to get by.

Of course, I had no idea that when I made that decision that 20-odd years later I’d be a politician, campaigning on benefit reform, two months out from an election.

I am in a privileged, fortunate position now; I have a voice and I have a platform. Thousands of other New Zealanders who are on a benefit don’t have that. In fact, they’re routinely silenced, marginalised and persecuted for the mere fact that they are poor.

That came into sharp focus a couple of weeks ago when we were preparing for our policy launch. I came across a news story about a woman who took her own life after she was accused of benefit fraud and told that she was to be prosecuted. It was eventually found that she had committed no offence but it was too late for her and the family she left behind. Reading about that case is what spurred me to tell my story – the whole story, not the redacted, PR version.

Some people have asked why it took me 15 years as an MP to do it. To that, all I can say is that nobody wants to be defined by a lie – I certainly never wanted to be. But the outrage and the urgency I felt after reading that woman’s story was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. For me, it felt like it was now or never.

I also think that as a country we are ready to have a conversation about what life is really like for people on benefits and for the 200,000 Kiwi children growing up in poverty. How the welfare system set up to help people actually keeps them living beneath the poverty line; how the government uses the threat of further poverty against the poor; how the best thing we can do to lift people out of poverty is simply to give them more money.

Read More : Guardian.

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2 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on 61chrissterry and commented:
    Good on you Metiria Turei and no people should not falsely claim benefit but many do to survive and all cases some be looked at on their merit.

    Fraud for greed should be pounced on, but fraud to live should be different. These people need help and the Society in which they live is not producing that help. It may be that they need help to run their life better so that fraud is not the manner to exist.

    Punish the true fraudsters not those just wishing to live.

    Society does look down on fraudsters and in many cases rightly so., but many in that Society are also fraudsters. How many try to avoid paying tax or should I say minimize our tax payments, for there are some legal ways to do so, such as ISAs.

    But some of the biggest fraudsters are those who appear to have plenty to live on. Some have been MPs in the UK by fiddling expenses, some are Corporations who use many ways to minimize their tax liability many of them being legal, but for a few some that are not.

    But why does it appear the person in the street is more likely to be charged than the Corporations, is it because they are easier targets, while Corporations can afford to bring in legal experts to argue when they are suspected of fraud.

    Surely all should be equal in the eyes of the law and all should be prosecuted if fraud is suspected and the punishment fit the crime taking into account the circumstances.

    The reality of needing to claim benefits also needs to looked at, as for some the need to claim benefits is a necessity not a luxury, as even with benefits they will never be anyway near a luxury status.

    All in Government and also the press need to reflect on this and then and only then will the stigma of claiming benefits be lifted and also will the public view of persons on benefits.

    The majority on benefits do need these benefits and the fraudsters and certainly so called scroungers are the very few, especially the latter. But are real people who need benefits newsworthy, unless there is a dramatic story more than likely leading to loss of life. The occasional benefit scrounger story is so more apparently newsworthy, so what does this say about ourselves and our so called Society.

    Liked by 1 person

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