The Government has launched yet another campaign to clamp down on fraudulent benefit claims, supposedly costing the taxpayer an estimated £16 million a year.
Voters are led to believe by politicians and the media that there is a ‘cheat’ and ‘scrounger’ lurking on every street, but the facts say otherwise.
The government and press have turned society against itself with relentless stories of the ‘fake’ or ‘cheat’ lurking in every neighbourhood. People have become amateur sleuths and doctors, who feel it is their civic duty to report their neighbour for benefit fraud without any solid evidence.
In many people’s minds, their hard-earned taxes gives them the right – with full backing from the government – to report people they think are claiming benefits fraudulently, even if they have no real evidence. Jealousy and selfishness from people who think their neighbour (perhaps even a friend) is getting something they aren’t, or don’t deserve?
The debate turns into a discussion about the deserving and undeserving poor, marked by a cultural shift of divide and rule and encouraged by a socially divisive government with little thought for the impact upon the poor and disabled.
We all accept that benefit fraud is a crime that should be dealt with accordingly. However, benefits fraud accounts for just 0.7% of the entire welfare budget. Claimant and DWP Error accounts for 1.4% of the benefit budget.
0.9% is underpaid and more than 6% remains completely unclaimed, but then you won’t read that in the press.
If the government’s interest is fairness and accuracy, then it would do better to tackle error and under-claiming. Although I’ve yet to see government advertising campaigns saying: “Health getting worse? Let us know – you might be eligible for more benefits”.
Benefit fraud investigators are waiting for (potentially malicious) calls from members of the public to decide who to investigate. Risk-profiling, on the other hand, means deciding to investigate someone because they are part of a high-risk group, which can be more accurate and is less affected by spurious or unfounded accusations.
Of concern is not just whether this is the best way to tackle benefit fraud, but also the culture of hate and suspicion it creates. Public perception is that benefit fraud is sky-high and this wrongly motivates people into reporting claimants.
Fraud investigators are receiving several thousands of accusations of benefit fraud from members of the public, and yet the vast majority are proven to be false or incorrect.
The culture of hatred and demonisation of benefit claimants is perpetuating high volumes of false accusations. It is an outrage that taxpayers are being led to believe a high percentage of benefit claims are fraudulent.
Both myself and Welfare Weekly responded by making Freedom of Information Requests to the DWP. What we found out left us speechless and infuriated.
The figures we obtained bring into question the government’s policy of encouraging members of the public to report alleged benefit fraud, through new advertising campaigns on TV and social networks.
Only 7.34% of benefit fraud cases reported by members of the public in the last year were substantiated by investigators, the remainder being incorrect or rejected due to a lack of evidence.
While investigators review allegations, those reported face potential benefit delays and may be forced to turn to food banks. The DWP says benefit sanctioning as a result of a malicious allegation is “unlikely to occur”.
DWP also admit they don’t record how many people make malicious allegations – mainly due to the anonymity they provide accusers – and take no action (legal or otherwise\ against those who do.
“We are unable to confirm the number of claimants who have been incorrectly reported to be claiming benefits fraudulently, and who have their benefit payments docked or suspended as a result of this information, because this information is not recorded.
“However an incident of this nature would be very unlikely to occur. The Department receives information from a number of sources that might warrant an investigation into a customer’s entitlement to benefit. This includes those from members of the public both anonymously and named.
“The referral management and investigation of benefit fraud process is robust and greatest of care is taken to corroborate the information to ensure we are directing our resources appropriately.
“When an investigation concludes the alleged fraud is unsubstantiated the investigation is closed with no further action. This can occur at any stage of the investigation and judgement of this is on a case by case basis and influenced only on the basis of established facts, gathered through these processes. This does not necessarily imply this as a malicious allegation.
“Without the facility to report benefit fraud anonymously there is a risk that the public may be deterred from providing valuable intelligence that assists in protecting the public purse.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 20 Nov 2014
Several North East MPs will either defy a party whip or not be at the House of Commons when Labour is told to vote in line with the coalition for a new cap on how much can be spent on state benefits.
Ed Miliband has told his MPs to back a Budget plan to cap welfare at £119bn, ending a situation in which benefit spending is increased to match the number of claimants.
While party leader Mr Miliband is keen to avoid looking soft on welfare, across the North East, MPs have called for the party to proudly stand up for low income families.
Easington MP Grahame Morris said he will not be voting for the cap. He told The Journal: “I cannot vote for the welfare cap. By implication it plays to the Tory strategy of divide and rule demonising those on benefits as the undeserving poor.
“It conveniently ignores the fact that two thirds of the welfare budget goes on pensions that people have contributed to during their working lives. Another substantial slice goes on supporting those in work on low wages.
“Once again Labour must differentiate its position from the Tories. It is shameful of the Tories to seek to set the working poor against the disabled. There are better, fairer ways to limit benefit spending for example by limiting the £20bn taxpayer spend on housing benefits which goes to private landlords through the introduction of rent controls.”
Gateshead MP Ian Mearns said he will not be in the Commons for the vote as a result of select committee business, but would not have voted for the cap.
He said: “Inherent in this is a further reduction in real terms of benefits over time. If the economy has another significant downturn this limits the capacity of the state to respond to genuine hardship.
“And let’s not forget that only about 3% of the benefits bill is for jobseekers’ allowance, the biggest single pot is for pensions.”
And Blaydon MP Dave Anderson also hit out at the plan. He said: “The welfare cap is just another piece of the Coalitions jigsaw to make the poor, the weak and the disabled pay for the failures of big business and global capitalism.
“This vote comes in the same week that Lloyds have been exposed as continuing to exploit customers over the disgraceful PPI misselling scandal. It is these rogues and many others like them who should be carrying the can for economic failure and not the most vulnerable in our country.”
It is thought other MPs will not be in Parliament for the vote, avoiding the need to rebel. Some 20 MPs nationally are thought to be ready to vote against the cap.
Labour has said that since much of the cap on spending does not include benefits linked to increased unemployment, it is happy to accept the changes.
The party has hit back at claims that there is little to differentiate its economic policy from the coalition, insisting a future Labour government would “make different choices”.
> It’s what the present Labour opposition is doing right now that really matters. And it doesn’t seem to be doing very much at all, apart from trying to make out it’ll be tougher on the poor than the current bunch.
Does ‘Red Ed’ really think that’s the way to win votes ? If he does, he’s going to be disapointed.
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Rachel Reeves, said Labour would support the Government when voting on the welfare cap, but insisted the party would also “take tough decisions” over future spending if in office after the General Election.
Source – Newcastle Journal, March 26 2014