finance

Dutch government resigns over childcare subsidies scandal



© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy speaks after a televised debate moderated by journalist Jeroen Pauw, on the eve of European elections in Amsterdam

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the resignation of his government on Friday, accepting responsibility for years of mismanagement of childcare subsidies, which wrongfully drove thousands of families to financial ruin.

Rutte said he had handed his resignation to King Willem-Alexander. The cabinet would remain in place in a caretaker capacity to manage the coronavirus crisis for now, with an election already due on March 17.

The resignation follows a parliamentary inquiry last month that found bureaucrats at the tax service had wrongly accused families of fraud.

The inquiry report said around 10,000 families had been forced to repay tens of thousands of euros of subsidies, in some cases leading to unemployment, bankruptcies and divorces, in what it called an “unprecedented injustice”.

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

Orlando Kadir, an attorney representing around 600 families in a lawsuit against politicians, said people had been targeted “as a result of ethnic profiling by bureaucrats who picked out their foreign-looking names”.

The crisis comes with the Netherlands in the midst of the toughest lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Rutte considering even more curbs as infections surge.

Even though public support for the government’s COVID-19 measures has dipped sharply in recent weeks, Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is still riding high in public opinion polls ahead of the March election.

Rutte’s party is projected to take just under 30% of the vote, more than twice that seen going to the second placed PVV, the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders. Rutte has served since 2010, having won re-election twice.

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