Twitter became quite excited yesterday. It was disclosed that Paula Bennett (or at least someone in her office) used a Crown Credit Card to withdraw $1,200 in cash against all the rules imaginable. Initially reports suggested that she had done this. Subsequent reports suggested that it was a staff member in her office.
And the money has been repaid. So no harm done and that normally should be the end of the matter.
I don’t know the details apart from what I have seen in the DIA release. I am prepared to extend to Paula and her office the benefit of the doubt.
But I cannot help but wonder at the unfairness of it all when comparing Paula’s treatment to the treatment of beneficiaries. For instance beneficiaries with an arrest warrant out for their arrest face the cancellation of their benefit thanks to one of Paula’s reforms. No ifs, no buts, no allowance for human fallibility, just the end of their benefit if they do not act quickly enough.
My many years working in Courts has shown to me that people, particularly people whose lives are really chaotic and who rely on a benefit to survive, accumulate warrants for all sorts of things. Fines that have not been addressed because they cannot afford to, a minor court case forgotten because they had too many, a night on the town where they consumed too much of some narcotic substance and then forgot to turn up to Court in the morning, or some minor matter where the authorities had the wrong address and obtained a warrant in lieu can all result in arrest warrants.
Bennett’s reforms had some ameliorating features. For instance if they had dependant children their benefit will only be halved. They could not survive on the original benefit, but it is a sign of how out of touch National is that they would think that halving a benefit would somehow make it OK. Or maybe it is a sign of how indifferent National is to poverty.
Poor people live so close to the edge that any temporary interruption to payment of their benefit will cause chaos. A week’s missed rent or important bills not otherwise paid can mean that the misery of poverty will be amplified really quickly.
By all means let us accept that within the offices of our Ministers mistakes can be made and they should not invite an adverse response. But let us also extend this good will to those in our communities who are struggling to make ends meet.