As Jacinda Ardern spoke at Labour’s election launch about child poverty the Town Hall was packed with people pinning their hopes on her. Did any give a thought to how deftly she had just a few weeks earlier fed Metiria Turei to the wolves?  Announcing she would not have Turei in a future Cabinet because “When you’re lawmakers, you can’t condone lawbreaking”,  Ardern sided with the pearl-clutching judgmentalism that columnist Zoe Williams writes about in the Guardian.

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The downfall of the New Zealand politician Metiria Turei shows how little empathy is left for those on the dole


Some things are easier to see from far away, and a collective slide away from empathy and common sense, towards pearl-clutching judgmentalism, is one of them. At the start of August the co-leader of New Zealand’s Green party, Metiria Turei, was forced to resign, following an outpouring of opprobrium that threatened to poleaxe her party’s prospects in September’s elections.

The crime for which this tide of hate would have been proportionate is hard to imagine: in fact, it was spurred by her admission that she committed benefit fraud in the early 90s, a confession she made freely to highlight how hard it was then, and is now, to raise a child as a single parent under New Zealand’s notoriously punitive welfare system.

More than half of all that country’s benefit claimants owe money to their work and income department, in what appears to be a version of Gordon Brown’s working family tax credit overpayments, where you identify the country’s poorest families, pay them slightly more than you intended by a metric you haven’t really explained, then saddle them with a debt they have no hope of repaying. When you get to the point that these debts affect 60% of claimants, this is no longer a glitch in the system: this is the system.

As the journalist Giovanni Tiso described in a moving essay, “once the blood was in the water, the sharks had to do as nature commanded them” – her admission of guilt was deemed not quite penitent enough. The media set out to “investigate” the extent of her fraud, and found that she had also had support from family members when she was young, so couldn’t possibly have been as destitute as she claims.

The prevailing view landed on the fact that she was a thief: she had stolen from the great, honest taxpayer, that creature of myth who needs nothing, takes nothing, works only to support others lazier than himself. Turei had to go. The fact that she created something miraculous – a stable home for her daughter, a law degree, a performance art troupe, a political career – from a standing start of grinding poverty and no qualifications was overlooked. Read the rest of the article here.


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