Benefit Kids and the Metiria Effect

Metiria Turei admitted to lying to Work and Income to keep her benefit, and then she further admitted to enrolling to vote in Mt Albert despite not living there to vote for a friend. She was hounded and has now resigned. Bill English claimed a housing allowance for a home he didn’t live in, and John Key enrolled in an electorate he also did not live in, both went on to be Prime Ministers. As a former benefit kid, our reporter LAUMATA LAUANO asks what the differences between their situations are and comes to the conclusion that the latter weren’t benefit kids- who if not Metiria is going to represent benefit kids now? 


The minute that Greens Party co-leader Metiria Turei admitted she had lied to keep her benefit while she was a single mum trying to get through university, she was hounded. 

And when she came out about enrolling in Mt Albert despite not living there, it was another nail in a resignation sized coffin some say she was building.


Never mind that our current Prime Minister Bill English had, on legal advice that he could, claimed a housing allowance for his Wellington home, by pretending that he really lived in Southland, when he didn’t.


Bill got to pay back the $32k he knowingly took through a technical loophole and went on to become Prime Minister.


Metiria resigned.


Our former Prime Minister John Key enrolled to vote in the Helensville electorate in 2002, where he owned a house that he did not then, or ever, live in.


A similar situation except John was a serious candidate for parliament, and while he was condemned for it at the time, he still went on to become the Prime Minister.


However Metiria resigned.


She was hounded by mainstream media, by other politicians, and by members of the public who’ve never been in her position before.


She’s paid the ultimate price as a politician and fallen on her sword.


Because once her family became involved, which was unacceptable, it became unbearable for her to continue on as co-leader or return to the Greens after the elections entirely.


I’m not saying she didn’t break the law when she lied in order to keep her benefit, but please explain to me why it’s okay to villainise beneficiaries, paint them as lazy, failures, leeches on the government while offering sympathy to tax fraud?


Which incidentally enough costs the taxpayers much more, with Inland Revenue (IRD) uncovering $1.2billion in tax ‘discrepancies’ compared to $24million in benefit fraud.


Yet why do those who steal out of need, rather than greed (looking at the tax evaders here), get vilified to the highest degree?


Metiria Turei, a woman of Maori descent, was a 23-year-old single parent on a benefit raising a child while also putting herself through law school.


She came clean about lying to keep her benefit in order to jumpstart a conversation about the systemic failure to our poorest families.


Perhaps, as her critics say, it was a publicity play. But be that as it may it did something more far-reaching.


Metiria cracked the conversation wide open.


The #iAmMetiria hashtag on twitter was inundated with personal stories of struggle that speak to this wider issue.


There are more poor people than there are rich, and income inequality hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years.


Metiria’s story brought the issues of poverty within our country to light. They often get overlooked for ponytail grabbing or text spamming.


It addressed the issue of poverty and systemic failure to provide for all people that have to survive on a benefit.



It’s an issue that affects the poorest of New Zealanders including us Maori and Pasifika people who are in the groups more likely to experience poverty than others.


New Zealand is a representative democracy; we the citizens are meant to vote individuals into power who we believe are able to represent our views and interests in proposing, crafting and passing legislation.


So why then are the individuals who are representative of ‘who we are as a society’ dwindling?


Tell me, why does it feel like a resounding message to anyone who resonated with Metiria’s story?


A message to anyone who has had to tell white lies to put food on the table for their loved ones, the marginalised, the disadvantaged, the people who live payday to payday.


A message to those that have little to no disposable income.




I am a benefit kid.


I wasn’t always a benefit kid, before we moved to the United States both my mum and dad worked full time jobs.


However while living in the US dad found out he had cancer and was given a couple of months left to live, so we came back home; to the land of the long white cloud, the land of milk and honey.


I was eight at the time and while mum stayed home to take care of dad; our family lived on benefits, a carer’s benefit and a sickness benefit.


When my dad passed away, fighting cancer for a good two years longer than the doctors said he could, it was down to mum to provide for me and my little sister.


My two older brothers had their own families look after, but they offered support to us- as aiga and whanau do.


Should she have declared that support?


She could not work in the same jobs anymore; her skills as a labourer and seamstress were not as desired at this point, but that didn’t mean she was lazy.


Up until she started showing signs of dementia, my mother was the most hardworking woman I’ve ever known. There was never a day’s rest.


Let one person say to me that my mother was lazy, a parasite on the system.


She took care of us on a benefit, as best she could. And when I could- I got a part-time job and helped with bills for the remainder of my schooling.


When I attended university I applied for an allowance, on top of my part-time job, which also went towards helping my family survive.


Pacific island families are communal by nature, Maori whanau included- is New Zealand not an island nation in the South Pacific?


Is our society not one made of a diverse set of cultures?


If we’re to be fairly represented in parliament we need more people like Metiria, people who’ve been in a position where they faced difficult choices of whether to ‘follow the rules strictly’ and risk not having the means to provide for their family, or bend them a little to survive.


We need people who’ve tasted poverty and know what it’s like.


We need adults who were once benefit kids and know the struggle.


What does her resignation signal? What’s the effect?


Well, for one, it kind of means our democracy won’t be representative of who we are as a society.


And secondly, it’s a message that benefit kids are best seen, not represented and should never actually go on to benefit from the government.