Labour leader Lodewijk Asscher is stepping down from the job because of criticism of his role in the childcare benefit scandal, just two months before the general election.
Asscher was social affairs minister from 2012 to 2017, the period during which thousands of families were wrongly branded as fraudsters for claiming special benefit to help pay for childcare.
As minister, he was partly responsible for the scandal, which meant some people were forced to pay back thousands of euros, losing their homes and jobs in the process.
Asscher had been under considerable pressure to step down from outside and within his own party.
Asscher, who has been active on behalf of the PvdA for 20 years, said in a video statement on Facebook that the childcare benefit scandal had put politicians under a magnifying glass.
The scandal is the result of years of mistrust, a benefit system which did not work and a view of human nature which had made the government an enemy of its own people, he said.
Een ander moment, een andere manier 👇https://t.co/pkELrXAutE
— Lodewijk Asscher (@LodewijkA) January 14, 2021
‘I did not know that the tax office was wrongfully hunting down thousands of families,’ he said. As minister, Asscher said, he had worked to remove the sharper edges of the law and to reduce the fines.
‘I accept it if people want to criticise me for what I did as minister or are disappointed in what I achieved,’ he said. ‘But the people who are openly calling my integrity into question or accuse me of having the wrong intentions, they do not know who I am or why I do this work.’
The discussion about his role in the scandal was making it impossible to focus the election debate on a post corona Netherlands and to ensure a better future, Asscher said, hence his decision to resign.
The PvdA is currently performing fairly well in the opinion polls and would win between 8% to 9.5% of the vote if there was a general election tomorrow.
As yet, it is unclear who will take over as PvdA leader.
The cabinet is due to decide on Friday how it will respond to the damning report on the tax office’s treatment of families wrongly suspected of child benefit fraud.
Commentators have not ruled out the possibility that the government could fall over the scandal just two months before the general election, either before or after MPs debate the report next Tuesday.
This week 20 families began legal proceedings in the Supreme Court against current and former cabinet members including economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes, finance minister Wopke Hoekstra and former junior finance minister Menno Snel for failing to apply the principles of good governance.
Snel is the only cabinet minister so far to lose his job as a result of the scandal.