It was a bold thing to do. When Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei admitted that she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand about her housing arrangements whilst collecting the Domestic Purposes Benefit, she knew full well it was putting putting her in a minefield.
In some respects I admire her honesty. She could have said nothing and left New Zealand, the authorities and the Green Party delegates assembled none the wiser.
In other respects though there is a degree of cynicism about her admission. In doing so, she had another goal in mind other than living up to her statement that an M.P. has to be honest. That goal was to give an example – and a very risky one – of a person struggling with the D.P.B. and making a choice to not be honest with Work and Income New Zealand.
I have had my own struggles with Work and Income. But the whole time I have been transparent with them, however much I might have been tempted to lob a verbal grenade across the desk. My association with Work and Income started back in 2000 when my parents decided to check out what legal assistance a 19 year old with permanent hypertension.
It is not to say that I have got on with W.I.N.Z. or the Ministry of Social Development at large – I have not. In August 2011 after 2 months on the unemployment benefit post 22 February 2011, I started studying for a Certificate of Business Administration (about 25 hours per week)and notified W.I.N.Z. Without telling me, despite asking, how to change my support, they cut the benefit and I only found out when I went to buy lunch one day and my EFTPOS card was declined – I had gone into overdraft because I was withdrawing money that I did not know that I didn’t have. After an argument with W.I.N.Z and another with Ministry of Social Development they put me on a student allowance, which – shock, horror – was actually worth $30 LESS per week than the unemployment benefit. I finished the C.B.A. and went back on the unemployment benefit just before Christmas 2011. For the two years I played a relentless game of cat and mouse – them trying to find a way of getting me off the benefit, and me staying one step ahead of them. It is not that I did not want to work – I was desperate to work, but the job market in post-earthquake Christchurch had essentially collapsed unless you were prepared to work in construction or hospitality, neither of which I thought I was capable of doing. When I finally got a job, it was no thanks to W.I.N.Z. and totally because of my own perseverance and a gentleman at Avis Budget Group being impressed by my ability to tough out a job.
But back to Metiria. She was admittedly between a rock and a hard place. She had bills to pay. She was certain her support would be cut if she told them the truth, which would have complicated her life considerably with her university degree and having to raise a daughter on top of expenses.
I don’t think there was any malicious intent in what she did then – or in admitting her past actions – but at the same time this is the kind of activity that has given National its licence to wage war on beneficiaries. And yes, she should pay back the money anyway.