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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 25 February 2021

‘Shameful’ child welfare scandal forces entire Dutch Cabinet to resign

Tax officials chased innocent families for child welfare refunds and wrongly accused them of fraud

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will stay on in a caretaker role until elections in March. EPA
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will stay on in a caretaker role until elections in March. EPA

The Dutch government has resigned over a scandal in which thousands of parents were wrongly accused of child benefit fraud leaving many facing financial ruin.

Compensation claims for people caught in the controversy are expected to top €300 million ($363.8m, £266.9 million) as about 10,000 families receive at least €30,000.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his Cabinet announced the mass resignation on Friday, with just two months to go until the general election. The premier will stay on as caretaker leader until the March 17 vote.

"The buck stops here. We are of one mind: if the whole system has failed, only joint responsibility can be borne. And that leads to the conclusion that I have just now offered the king the resignation of the entire cabinet," Mr Rutte said.

A Dutch parliamentary report called the scandal in which the government wrongly tried to claim tens of thousands of euros from parents, an "unprecedented injustice".

The red carpet was rolled out at Huis ten Bosch Palace before a visit by Prime Minister Mark Rutte to tell King Willem-Alexander that the Cabinet is resigning. EPA
The red carpet was rolled out at Huis ten Bosch Palace before a visit by Prime Minister Mark Rutte to tell King Willem-Alexander that the Cabinet is resigning. EPA

The report found that “fundamental principles of the rule of law have been violated”.

Between 2013 and 2019, the Dutch tax office accused thousands of families of fraudulently claiming child welfare payments and drove families into financial difficulties, causing some to split.

Even Mr Rutte, who became prime minister in 2010, has previously called the controversy “shameful”.

"The rule of law must protect its citizens from an all-powerful government, and here that's gone terribly wrong," he said on Friday.

Green leader Jesse Klaver welcomed the resignation as the "right decision" for the Netherlands.

"Let this be a new beginning. A turning point," he wrote on Twitter, saying this could be "the moment when we rebuild our welfare state".

Janet Ramesar, a parent caught up in the scandal, said: "It's important for me because it is the government acknowledging, "we have made a mistake and we are taking responsibility."

Many of the families were targeted based on their ethnic origin or dual nationality, the tax office said last year.

Orlando Kadir, an attorney representing about 600 families, said people had been targeted "as a result of ethnic profiling by bureaucrats who picked out their foreign-looking names".

Pressure grew on Mr Rutte’s four-party coalition on Thursday when the opposition Labour party leader Lodewijk Asscher announced his resignation. He was social affairs minister from 2012 to 2017 in a previous Rutte-led coalition.

Despite the scandal, Mr Rutte’s centre-right-liberal coalition is leading in opinion polls, with far-right leader Geert Wilders his closest challenger.

"Innocent people, were criminalised, their lives destroyed," Mr Wilders tweeted. "It is not credible that officials should continue as if nothing had happened."

Updated: January 15, 2021 07:33 PM

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