Dutch PM Mark Rutte resigns amid government welfare benefits scandal

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said he will step down over his government”s response to a child welfare benefits scandal.

It emerged the tax authority wrongly accused families of fraud when claiming child welfare benefits.

Pressure had been mounting on the Dutch government ahead of a cabinet meeting on Friday where they were set to discuss if they would quit only two months before a planned general election.

The country is currently struggling to implement its COVID-19 response amid thousands of daily infections and a slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines.

What was the scandal over?

A parliamentary report had revealed in December that thousands of parents had benefit payments stopped amid fraud investigations. Some of those parents went into debt after being wrongly accused of falsely claiming benefits.

The Dutch government has apologised for the scandal and set aside €500 million for the parents who had been affected.

Labour Party leader Lodewijk Asscher said he would resign over the scandal on Thursday, saying that he would not stand in the upcoming March 17 ballot.

Asscher was social affairs minister in the previous Dutch government from 2012 to 2017 but said in a video posted to Facebook that he “did not know that the tax authorities had launched an illegal hunt for thousands of families.”

The Labour Party shared power in the government until losing seats in 2017 and is now in opposition.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Thursday that he had spoken to Asscher.

“I greatly appreciated his tremendous commitment to our country and our cooperation over the years. I personally wish him all the best,” Rutte tweeted.

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