Benefit fraud is big business. It costs us over £6bn each
Over twelve months the DWP found 200,000 benefit fraud cases with
a high possibility of prosecution. Those were just the ones they
And how many did it take to court? 7,483.
In other words, the sheer scale of benefit fraud is overwhelming
the system. Enforcement will never catch up with this tide of criminality.
Take Sheffield. In April 2011 the council there announced that
it was to halve its housing benefit and council tax fraud investigation
team, raising - according
to the BBC - fears that criminals could slip through the net.
There were currently 14 staff on the team, they wrote, tasked
with catching 300 cheats a year. Union representatives warned that
this cut could make the council a "soft target". So was
Sheffield a hard target before? They were targeting 300 benefit
thieves a year. But how many claimants did Sheffield have? During
2010/11 there were 33,759 new claims for Housing Benefit
and Council Tax Benefit, and at the end of the financial year there
were 63,647 "customers" receiving the benefits. In other
words, any fraudster who gets caught there is seriously unlucky.
Criminals will probably continue to slip through the net. Just as
But we can't afford just to give up. We have to deter.
People have to fear the penalties.
- People convicted of benefit fraud who don't go to prison should
have to do unpaid work; and
- Benefit thieves should always have to repay twice what they've
stolen, and should not be eligible for any further benefits
including tax credits - until they have.
There should be a transition. The new penalties should be widely
publicised. There would be a delay of twelve months before they
come into force.
In that time, people can confess and accept the present scale of
And afterwards? Consider. Do taxpayers have a duty to subsidise
thieves who have stolen from them? Sure, a charity supported by
voluntary donations may wish to do so. But should taxpayers be obliged
to keep on paying out, whether we want to or not?
Is this extreme? Too extreme? We cannot go on as we are. Theft
on this scale year after year debauches society, and robs us of
money we can't afford to lose. We need the threat of swift, stern
punishments to truly deter benefit thieves.
What would you propose?