This Government has focused a lot of its energy on dealing with benefit fraud, which cost the country around $23 million last year. This figure has been questioned because it supposedly includes those who were mistakenly overpaid, so the amount of real fraud may be a lot less. Examples used to highlight the sort of sums that have been gained through benefit fraud have generally been around $20,000 -$40,000 and many of these fraudsters have been caught using existing systems (715 successful prosecutions over the last year).
Any fraudulent behaviour is unacceptable but I have become aware of some double standards in how justice is applied depending on the nature of the fraud and the socio-economic status of the individuals concerned.
I present three case studies:
- Ms M, a "home maker", was caught lying about her sometimes live in partner while collecting a benefit as a single mother. The sum involved was $62,000, paid out over 16 years (an average of $3,870 a year).
- Mr B, a government servant earning an annual salary of $270,000, stated that his primary residence was in Dipton (Southland) and claimed an allowance for living away from his home of about $900 a week ($46,800 per annum). This was despite the fact that he had been living with his family in Wellington for over four years and had bought a $1.5 million dollar home there.
- Mr D, became a CEO of a state owned enterprise and over a period of ten years had his annual salary increased by 440% (from $320,000 to $1.4 million) when the rate of inflation over that period was only 29%. During this time he deliberately ignored market signals and good advice and invested in a number of high risk schemes. The company ended up making a loss of $389 million dollars and had to lay off 220 workers.
The consequences for their fraudulent behaviour has been quite different for each of these people:
- Ms M received a criminal conviction and was made to pay back all the money.
- Mr B claimed he was operating within the rules although it "didn't look good", he paid back $12,000 and is still receiving $24,000 a year in living allowances.
- Mr D was not required to explain his behaviour and, despite his obvious fraud, and is still receiving a $1.3 million salary after having resigned and being replaced as CEO.
When it comes to Dirty Don the coal man, his business was dirty in more ways than one and the level of his financial misdoings is well beyond any woman on the DPB who tries to extend her meagre income by lying about a relationship (which may have had minimal financial benefit). Both Don and Bill were very manipulative with the truth when accessing public funds for their own benefit but suffered minimal consequences. In Don's case he became a millionaire (earning in excess of $10 million over his time as Solid Energy's egocentric boss) and built a palace at the cost of hundreds of unemployed workers and a probable taxpayer bailout of almost $400 million. This Government has rewarded his greed by protecting him from public scrutiny and still paying him his millionaire salary.
Meanwhile 270,000 children live in poverty and the war on beneficiaries continues!