Clio Francis writes in the Dom Post:
A Kiwi beneficiary has travelled the world funded by the dole, spending nearly two years seeing the sights of Europe, Asia and Africa without his unemployment benefit being cut off.
In an international escapade that has left Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and Work and Income fuming, Peter Freedom, 34, has admitted seeing the world at taxpayer expense.
Mr Freedom left New Zealand for Australia on April 11, 2009, expecting his benefit would be cut off two weeks later. “I was just amazed when it didn’t,” he said from Dubai.
He visited Europe, the Balkans, Britain, North Africa and Asia before his benefit was finally axed late last month.
Work and Income head Mike Smith said Mr Freedom – previously known as Petrus van Druten – would be prosecuted for benefit fraud if he returned to New Zealand.
“Peter Freedom is a liar and fraudster who has abused the trust of New Zealanders. We will throw the book at him if he returns.”
Ms Bennett said Mr Freedom’s claim that he thought the benefit would “just stop” was pathetic.
“There is no excuse for continuing to claim welfare on an extended overseas holiday.
“New Zealanders will find the photos of Mr Freedom in front of Egypt’s pyramids hard to stomach and I have to say I do too.”
Mr Freedom used the nearly $28,000 – $287.12 a week, which later increased to $293.04 – to see some tourist meccas.
His favourites included the Pyramids of Giza, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower and bullfighting in Spain. “The trip was funded by the benefit,” Mr Freedom said. “What started as an accident soon became an opportunity.”
An opportunity to go to jail I hope.
Before he left New Zealand Mr Freedom had been living in Hawera, Taranaki. He said he was keen to work but when a job came up outside town and he asked Work and Income to stump up some money for transport, he was refused. “I just needed a little bit of help but I never got it.”
Yet he had enough money to afford an international air ticket.
His benefit was stopped last month as part of the Government’s Future Focus reforms, which require all people who have been on the unemployment benefit for a year to reapply.
Reforms which were opposed by certain political parties.