The DWP is pushing the benefit fraud narrative but disabled people know where the real problem lies
The government and DWP crow about benefit fraud but how much are they losing in error and incompetence?
by: Rachel Charlton-Dailey
13 May 2023
Disability minister Tom Pursglove was widely criticised for his video. Image: Screenshot from @DWPgovuk/Twitter
The Department for Work and Pensions has recently been bragging about its commitment to cracking down on benefit fraud and those seemingly stealing taxpayers’ money.
A couple of weeks ago we saw a video of Minister for Disabled People Tom Pursglove on a dawn raid announcing breathlessly: “We will track you down. We will find you. And we will bring you to justice”.
This was rightly ridiculed and derided for the aforementioned minister’s performance (somewhere between an extra on The Bill and a wet Liam Neeson impression, in case you missed it) but mostly because of the insinuation that there’s an influx of benefit fraud.
Those on benefits, especially disabled people, have for a long time been painted as fakers – lying about our circumstances in order to leech off the government and not have to work. But anyone on benefits knows how untrue that is.
This week the DWP announced their “Fraud Plan” was working, decreasing the amount lost to “fraudsters” from £6.5 billion in the year to April 2022, to £6.4 billion this April. It’s worth noting, however, that despite all this focus on fraud from furious ministers and supportive press, another £2 billion a year is being lost through error.
Take a closer look at the official figures and you’ll see that, while universal credit fraud has ballooned during the pandemic, the amount lost to error for disability living allowance and personal independence payments is consistently higher than for fraud. That is not the message our minister for disabled people is sending. And, when crowing about it on social media, the DWP relies heavily on the total benefit and fraud figure of £8.3 billion figure, not always differentiating between the two.
Benefit “error” is in my opinion an inaccurate term, as it includes a whole host of issues which usually happen when changes in circumstances either aren’t taken into account or the claimant struggles to inform the department about changes. It can also involve when someone continues to be paid despite failing their assessment.
I find it hypocritical that the DWP is claiming fraud and error is high when many people are struggling more than ever to contact them.
Disability News Service reported that claimants are waiting up to 90 minutes to speak to someone and many also report being cut off before they can even speak to anyone. Pursglove says the average wait is 37 minutes, but that is little comfort to those who can’t get through to anyone.
There’s also the figures that the DWP and government aren’t talking about. Whilst fraud and error do cost taxpayers a lot, it’s nothing compared to the £42 billion lost in unpaid tax in the last tax year. This is up from £35 billion in 2020/21.
It’s also worth mentioning they save £19 billion a year in unclaimed benefits, through people either not knowing they are entitled to benefits or struggling to get through the gruelling assessment process. Some £3.3 billion was also saved last year in underpayments. Claimants are missing out on more than three times what the DWP claims is stolen.
The DWP are blaming all their issues on fraud and error, but it’s not our fault that we literally can’t get in touch with the people we’re supposed to be reporting changes to. The painting of all benefits claimants as fraudsters and scroungers is a deliberate act to turn the public against low-income and disabled people.
For the last 13 years, successive conservative governments have orchestrated a smear campaign against disabled and low-income people. Turning working class people against each other in the hope it’ll stop us scrutinising the activities of them and their mates. But their actions have decimated our communities. We can’t allow it to continue.
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