Let’s talk about entitlement

“800 prosecutions a year for bene fraud. 50 a year for tax evasion. Even though it costs us 50x as much.”

That’s a tweet from Max Rashbrooke, a journalist who writes about politics and social issues.

New research by a Victoria University associate law professor shows that while tax debt in New Zealand hovers round the $6b mark, and welfare debt a 6th of that at around $1b, IRD is more likely to write off unpaid tax, than MSD is to wipe a welfare debt.

Why are we not surprised?

In October last year, 3 News reported that tax evasion costs the country 150 times what welfare fraud does, but those with tax debts are prosecuted far less often.

I was very interested in this quote from the Vic Uni professor.

“Tax evasion, that’s the deliberate act of not giving money to the Government that you should give to them. And benefit fraud is the act of deliberately taking money from the Government you’re not entitled to.”  – Dr Lisa Marriott

You want to talk about entitlement? Ok, sure. I presume the people who evade taxes feel that they are entitled to services and infrastructure that everyone else is paying for. I presume they feel they are entitled to withhold the money that the same justice system that protects them, survives on. I presume they feel that they are entitled to instead use this money to buy themselves another car or a bach in the Coromandel, because god forbid some bloodsucking beneficiary should use it to buy themselves a loaf of bread.

I paid taxes, just like everyone else, when I was able to work. And when I wasn’t able to work anymore, I resisted the idea that I was “entitled to” any support. It took me a long time to come to terms with accepting help, even though it is help that, with my taxes, I have effectively paid for.

I’m very interested in the idea that benefit fraud is considered an act of thievery.

I’m not quite sure what people think these “fraudsters” are doing. The maximum ‘Jobseeker Support’ benefit for a single person per week is around $206. Does the public think the unemployed and/or ill are buying big screen TVs? Do they think we’re going on flash holidays? Do they think we’re spending it all on alcohol and drugs?

Believe me, if I had enough money for the drugs I’m supposed to be taking, I’d be thrilled.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: The benefit is not enough to live on. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, it is enough to survive on. I have a friend, who has health issues, is trying to study to get back into work, and is forced to live in a situation he’d prefer not to be in – who routinely spends $30 on food a week. 30 fucking dollars. Tell me that’s living. Just tell me.

When I first went into WINZ to see what I was “entitled to,” I laid out all my costs in front of the case worker. Rent, food, APs, power, phone. They added all of these up. And then they gave me the total figure of my benefit. It was at least $150 per week below the costs I had shown them. The conversation went like this.

“This is how much my rent costs per week.”

“Ok. Here is your accommodation supplement to pay that.”

“Thank you. But that number is only half of what I just told you my rent is. How do I pay the other half? I am sick and cannot work.”

– Blank stare –

Say, hypothetically, I had a house guest stay with me for a couple weeks. Say she gave me a few dollars towards expenses while she was here, because I wouldn’t be able to afford the extra food and power otherwise. Say she paid for a few meals, to make things easier for me. Say I didn’t declare this as “income” to WINZ.

That could be perceived as benefit fraud. That’s me “taking money I’m not entitled to.”

Say I manage to do a few hours work. Say I really, really need to see the doctor, and there is nothing left in my account after I’ve paid my bills. Say I don’t declare that income to WINZ, because if I do, they will take it off my benefit, and then I won’t be able to go to the doctor.

That’s benefit fraud.

I’m not encouraging people to break the law. I’m not saying that in every case, this sort of behaviour is justified. I’m saying that, in our country right now, there are people are desperate. They’re trying to keep a roof over their heads and food in their mouths.  They’re just trying to get through another week.

I’d love it if, instead of prosecuting – and persecuting – them, we could focus on the people who are making enough money to commit tax evasion in the first place.

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