Couple's claim exploits make mockery of welfare system

Christmas is supposed to be the season of goodwill, but it's darned hard to be charitable towards either the individuals concerned or the government department responsible for doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of benefits to a Christchurch family with gang connections over the past 25 years.

The Press newspaper has reported that former gang leader Darryl Harris and his wife Marcia Harris, and three of their four children, are all beneficiaries.

Furthermore, that Mr and Mrs Harris have claimed unemployment and sickness benefits continuously since 1984, at present being in receipt of about $1000 a week.

Additionally it was revealed that they have also received $30,000 in special needs grants since 2000, including $16,000 in the past two years.

Among the special needs to which these funds were apparently put, were new tyres on the couple's 2007 silver Chrysler saloon, and a fence for a swimming pool at one of their several properties.

Hang on a minute, mate.

Several properties? Late model silver Chrysler? Swimming pool? Beneficiaries?Yup, apparently, so.

I wonder on which particular planet are habitually resident the case managers whose chore it is to reconcile claims lodged by the claimants with their actual situations, and then to authorise them - or not.

Presumably one not well known to the rest of us.

It's enough to make a hard-working taxpayer weep - or at least turn into a raging Act party member determined to overturn the welfare state.

How can these people have been allowed to get away with claiming such sums of money for so long?

How have these people managed to afford and accumulate several properties on the strength of benefits?

How can they manage to run a late model gas-guzzler? Didn't anyone from Work and Income at any stage smell a rat?

There have been attempts to separate Darryl Harris from his sickness benefit, but this failed when the Work and Income "designated doctor" assigned to him proffered an opinion stating that he was addicted to cannabis.

This followed an appeal by the agency against a prior medical opinion that Mr Harris was suffering from "stress and anxiety" over being work-tested.

Honestly, these people must be laughing all the way to the bank - not only at Work and Income, but at every muggins PAYE employee who holds down a job and gives a proportion of his or her wages to the Government so that people like Darryl Harris can sit around on his chuff smoking dope and claiming large dollops of free money for the privilege.

This is evidently a case of some historical longevity, so it would be unfair to lay responsibility for it at the feet of Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

However, it seems a case that is right up the alley of this pin-up woman for the underprivileged, pulled-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps brigade.

Ms Bennett who wades into a shopping mall fracas and sorts it all out to glowing headlines; or delves into the personal files of a couple of young beneficiary single mums doing their best to better themselves with an education so as to get off the benefit, and shops them to the media.

Well here's a deserving case to test the minister's mettle.

Let's see what's she's really made of.

"New Zealanders expect two things of the welfare system - that it supports people who really need a hand, and that it is fair," she said.

"Unfortunately, there are cases that prove to us that as it stands the system isn't always fair."

Fair enough, but it wouldn't be entirely fair either if the too-hard-basket cases, like Mr and Mrs Harris, decreed that those who are really in need of a hand-up were disadavantaged as a result.

Still, something must be done.

It's hard to see how compulsory budgeting advice sessions, as proposed by the Government, might help someone like Darryl Harris as he presents his latest grant application.

Can't you just hear it.

"Now listen here, Dazza, are you sure you can't get a better deal on all that dope you are smoking? The department thinks you need to shop around, test the market a little."

Yeah, budgeting advice . . . that's really gonna cut some ice - no pun intended.

But they're on more solid ground with plans to suspend or reduce benefits for those who refuse to comply with requests to attend work interviews, or take up work opportunities.

There is only so much of the benefit cake to go round, and plenty of people who have, often through no fault of their own, fallen on seriously hard times.

Somehow I don't imagine the Harris family, with their several properties, swimming pools and smart cars, truly fit into that category.

But then what would I know? Over to you Ms Bennett.

• Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor at the Otago Daily Times.

Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter