This was the response from Social Development Minister Paula Bennet to claims by a beneficiary and a superannuitant who used the excuse of poverty for growing cannabis.
When asked to comment, Ms Bennett, . . . said: “There is no excuse for criminal behaviour and the benefit system should not be used as a scapegoat.
“This country has one of the most generous welfare systems in the world, tax credits for low-income families and a range of organisations prepared to help those on low incomes to make ends meet, so claiming the only way to survive in New Zealand is to be a criminal, is ridiculous,” she said.
“It’s insulting to those who do manage to live on a benefit, to hear others claim they need thousands of dollars a year from drug deals to supplement their taxpayer-funded income.”
Managing on a benefit is not easy but that is still no excuse for crime.
Anglican Family Care director Nicola Taylor said high living costs coupled with inadequate benefit payments had pushed many people to breaking point.
For some people, their benefit was “gone before they got it” on money owed to Work and Income, court fines to the Department of Justice, and hire-purchase payments.
While the social agency did not condone criminal activities, there were certainly cases of “resourceful” beneficiaries trying to earn money from unlawful activities, she said.
“Some people manage on their weekly benefit and others don’t.”
When this question of recourse to crime if you were poor was raised a few years ago the Oamaru Mail quizzed North Otago clergy. One vicar was from South Africa and said he found it difficult to comment on poverty here.
Where he came from hudnreds of people shared a single cold water tap, here he watched people drive cars to the food bank.
When you’re on a benefit there is rarely much left after basic costs have been covered. But some of the reasons given for problems – paying fines and possibly some hire purchase payments – are usually a sign of high outgoings as a result of poor choices and inadequate budgeting skills rather than a reflection on the adequacy or otherwise of welfare payments.
Some people will always manage better than others on any income. But regardless of that and the reasons for difficulty in budgeting, poverty is no excuse for crime in New Zealand.
Growing vegetables wouldn’t be as lucrative as growing cannabis for the two people who ended up in court. But it would reduce their food bills and selling the surplus would be a legal way to earn extra from their green fingers.