The child benefits scandal: no lessons learned

“It could happen again tomorrow” is one of the main devastating conclusions of the parlementary inquiry following the child benefits scandal.

The patterns that led to this are still present. Without proper measures, changes and safeguards, the next scandal could happen again at any moment. The blindness of government to people and justice has not gone away.”

The right of inquiry is one of the most powerful constitutional tools available to the Dutch Parliament. Most recently, the Dutch Parliament used this right to investigate the public services and fraude detection policies that led to the child benefits scandal. Last week the final report, titled Blind voor mens en recht (blind to humanity and justice) was published.

The eight committee members of the Parlementaire enquêtecommissie Fraudebeleid en Dienstverlening in Parliament
Parlementaire enquêtecommissie Fraudebeleid en Dienstverlening

The report outlines in minute detail how and why the machine of government continues to blindly grind up mainly poor and racialised people.

A crucial part of this dynamic is how the government increasingly collects data and employs risk assesment systems to direct its fraud detection efforts. In Chapter 7, the report contains a shocking survey of the different discriminatory, racist, and faulty systems we have implemented over the past decade: Project Black box, Systeem Risico Indicatie (SyRI), Toeslagen verstrekkingssysteem, and many more.

If anything, the report shows how automated risk assessments can turbocharge a blind focus on fraud detection, further amplifying institutional racism as well as the criminalisation and stigmatisation of poverty.

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