Efforts to portray every nearly single benefit claimant as “on the fiddle” stepped up a gear at the weekend with the DWP briefing the media with tabloid-ready “bizarre benefit fraud excuses”, including:
- “We don’t live together – he just comes each morning to fill his flask.”
- “I was carrying the ladders for therapy.”
- “I never noticed my wife going to work.”
- “He lives in a caravan in the drive.”
- “It was my twin.”
- “I didn’t know wife was at work – I’m in the shed.”
After George Osborne was accused by churches of exaggerating the scale of benefit fraud in October 2010, this latest move has led to renewed charges from charities that the government is “using unusual fraud cases to support changes which could have a serious and negative impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people.”
Perhaps Iain Duncan Smith and his DWP spinners would benefit from some context. The £1.1 billion cost of fraud (a modest 0.7% of the total benefits spend) averages out to £59 across 18.5 million claimants.* In contrast, MPs were ordered to pay back £1.2 million in the wake of Thomas Legg’s inquiry into expenses, an average of £1,858 for the 646 members of the Commons.
Looking for offenders to castigate in press releases, the DWP ministerial team need not look beyond their own ranks: Chris Grayling claimed thousands to renovate a flat in central London – bought with a mortgage funded at taxpayers’ expense – even though his constituency home is less than 17 miles from the House of Commons; Steve Webb claimed for £8,400 in stamp duty after he sold his Westminster flat and bought another just 100 yards down the road.
Can the “quiet man” please turn down the volume on these smears?
*5.7 million working age claimants plus 12.8 million pension age claimants. Source: DWP Quarterly Statistics Summary