Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Dutch government resigns due to welfare fraud scandal

Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands resigned along with his entire cabinet on Jan. 15. This came in the wake of an ongoing scandal where thousands of families were falsely accused of defrauding the government, according to BBC


In 2005, the Dutch government passed the Childcare Act, which provided low-income families with money to pay for daycare and babysitting for their children. In 2012, the Dutch government ordered extra screening to prevent people who did not qualify from receiving the childcare benefit. 


From 2012–19, over 10,000 families were accused of defrauding the Dutch government by receiving the childcare benefit illegally. The exact number of families is unknown but is estimated to be as high as 26,000. These families did qualify for the benefit, but small errors such as missing a signature on a form led to their cases being labeled as fraudulent. 


These families were forced to pay the entirety of the benefits back, driving many families to bankruptcy. One man, Roger Derikx, was so upset at being ordered to pay back €60,000 that he broke into the Dutch parliament during a debate. 


“[T]hey came to our door, they took our car, our computer, the television and the washing machine,” Derikx said, as reported by Dutch News. “My wife and I divorced, the tax office contacted my business’s clients and I was thrown away. They took everything away from us. It must never happen again: we want justice, we want our dignity back and we want our money back.”


In addition, the tax office admitted people with dual nationality were automatically given more stringent screenings. As a result, a large portion of families being accused of fraud were immigrants and people of color. A lawyer representing some of the falsely accused families stated families were targeted “as a result of ethnic profiling by bureaucrats who picked out their foreign-looking names.” 


“It is never acceptable for someone to feel they are being discriminated against based on nationality, race, gender, or sexual [orientation],” Rutte said, according to Reuters. “It is absolutely unacceptable in a law-based state.”


The government has been accused of deliberately ignoring the situation. As early as 2014, Finance Minister Frans Weekers was forced to resign due to the scandal. Weekers’ successor Eric Wiebes failed to resolve the scandal, but was still promoted to the position of Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.


Wiebes’ successor Menno Snel was also forced to resign after his mishandling of the scandal came to light. “They have been steamrolled by a government apparatus without being able to escape it,” Snel said, shortly before his resignation. “But I can’t make up for it anymore.”  


Due to the length of the scandal and Rutte’s position in the cabinet, the entire cabinet chose to accept responsibility and resign. 


Rutte stated at the press conference announcing his resignation that “[m]istakes were made at every level of the state, with the result that terrible injustice was done to thousands of parents. […] Things cannot ever be allowed to go so terribly wrong again.” The Dutch government passed a resolution giving 10,000 affected families €30,000 each, according to The New York Times. However, a lawyer representing 600 victims said all of his clients have yet to receive any compensation.


“What needs to be done is clear: everything needs to be repaired and cleaned up,” affected families stated in an open letter. “And we have no confidence that this is going to happen with this cabinet. We give up confidence in this government and ask the gentlemen and ladies to go home and not come back.”