'Bijstand': it’s all in the name

The last couple of days there has been a lot of turmoil about the woman who is forced to repay 7,000 euros of benefit money because her mother paid for her groceries every now and then. Many people are outraged, politicians step over each other to ask parliamentary questions, the media are full of angry stories about the wrong the city and the judge (who found them in the right) are doing to this woman. This can’t be!

The problem is, it can. What’s more: it’s exactly how the law was meant to be. And even worse: cities that execute the law in a more human way, are punishable. Because the law is clear: welfare is meant to be a last resort, and if you have any income, you will have to hand it all over to the city. Besides that, you have to apply for jobs, relocate if that will get you a job, accept each job you are offered, accept three hours travel time a day, work an unpaid job if the city wants you to, dress decently, etc. If you live on welfare, you will play by the rules whether you like it or not. And if you don't: "just don’t apply for welfare. Right?”

Nobody chooses to live on welfare. People end up living on benefit money because of all sorts of circumstances and in all sorts of ways. And they have to go to great lengths to live on 1,000 euros a month. Good luck with that. And to make sure nobody takes advantage of it, the government and the city ensure that the rules are complied with.

It’s the policy that lacks the human dimension. The kind of legislation that keeps up the appearance of preventing all abuse, but is abusive in itself. We see parallels with the ‘toeslagenaffaire’. It’s impossible to summarize this case in just a few sentences. The extensive article Jesse Frederik (De Correspondent) wrote about it, is really worth reading. It consists of the first six chapters of the book he is writing, tellingly titled “Zo hadden we het niet bedoeld”.

What struck us the most: politics are an important cause of the toeslagenaffaire. Politicians decided that under no circumstances the available welfare budgets can be taken advantage of. Not by fraudulent Bulgarians, not by Aunt Jean, not by anybody. This has to be prevented at all costs. Politicians (pressured by the media, by the way) step over each other to scream bloody murder en request measures, which they knew would lead to a (illegal) zero tolerance policy. That zero tolerance policy, stripped of nuance and human dimension, eventually leads to the dramatic events as we have seen them develop. The wrongdoings meant to be prevented by this Realpolitik, pale by the damage this drama does.

We can only solve this by bringing back the human dimension. And by accepting that it might be abused. Together, we decide what kind of society we want to live in. And, because we live in this funny little country, we can have a huge impact on that society. Are you still making resolutions for 2021: we have two suggestions. Vote in March. The more human, the better, if you ask us. And please hire somebody who is now living on welfare. Because having a job works wonders. You can change the rules of the game. Shall we?


Hoogleraar: dit is hoe de bijstand bedoeld is

Gemeente ‘kijkt opnieuw’ naar vrouw die 7000 euro bijstand moet terugbetalen

Politiek slaat alarm over strenge bijstandsregels

Wat zijn mijn rechten en plichten in de bijstand?

Tienduizenden gedupeerden, maar geen daders: zo ontstond de tragedie achter de toeslagenaffaire