Friday, November 05, 2010

Whose Benefit?

I see the Thanet Gazette reports this morning that benefit fraud in Thanet is on the increase and 'Has almost doubled' on last year. I won't say by how much otherwise the Gazette will complain that I'm depriving them of their 60p for you to find out and in any case, this blog is reportedly so dull that you must have arrived here by complete accident along with several hundred other political tourists today.

In fact, as the cabinet member for benefits, I was at the interview reported by the paper but predictably remain the 'invisible man.' What I said, should anyone be vaguely interested, is that tackling benefit fraud remains a high priority and it's a problem that has consequences for all of us paying our council tax, because if there's an overpayment, with a 40% - 60% split with the Department of Work & Pensions, if we don't recover the money, we lose it. When you consider for a moment that we are facing a £21 million shortfall in our local budget over the next four years, a big growth in benefit fraud doesn't go unnoticed.

In many cases, overpayments can be accidental, because people forget or simply omit to inform the DWP or council of a change of circumstances but like many councils, Thanet is seeing cases where very large sums are claimed fraudulently, sometimes in an organised manner and that hurts us all, as a community struggling to makes ends meet at a difficult time.

I have a zero tolerance approach to benefit fraud and I'm sure readers will feel the same way. I've an excellent team of officers working hard to tackle the problem but Britain has a generous welfare system which is and always has been open to abuse, as reflected in the 30% or so more National Insurance cards than there are members of the working population. Fraud on this scale raises uncomfortable questions about our society and the way in which we have moved from responsibility to dependence in a generation. What we need to do is somehow address the root cause of a problem that successive socialist governments have been unwilling to tackle. However. Like the housing benefit debate in London, this is going to raise strong feelings and may risk dividing an already divided society even further.


Michael Child said...

Difficult times for the local papers as they try to adjust to the internet Simon, the fundamental question being how does anyone get paid for writing anything when everything written seems to find its way into an electronic form?

It would seem that the local papers don’t quite appreciate how to use the local blog scene and the internet to their best advantage, I base this on the number of comments that they pick up.

I don’t quite understand this business of 30% more national insurance cards than members of the working population, something about it doesn’t make sense, firstly I don’t think there is a relationship between the members of the working population and cards issued or even eligibility for benefit.

The school student Saturday people who I take on couldn’t for instance be classed as members of the working population, yet they all seem to have cards.

I am not saying the statistic is necessarily wrong, just that I don’t see what it means in this context or what the relationship between the amount of national insurance card holders that are not members of the working population and the number of people claiming benefit fraudulently could be.

DrM. said...

The statistics (estimated) on fake NI cards has been known for some years and I suspect I've written about it before. Successive governments have been reluctant to clean-up the system because of the damning evidence it would reveal on a host of factors; immigration being among them I'm told.

Michael Child said...

Sorry Simon I don’t understand this, you aren’t saying that 30% of all NI card are fake are you?

DrM. said...

No I'm saying that reports suggest that there are 9 million more NI Cards and numbers in circulation then there should be.

The story appeared here some time ago:

"The nine million numbers were issued by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and are registered on its database, but officials do not know if they are held legitimately."

Herein lies the problem. The government either through gross error or through the corrupt action of a small number of civil servants, has issued not 10,000 - as in passports or even driving licenses - but "9 million" false NI numbers. It's such an enormous figure that it's hard to countenance and it presents an awful dilemma in that that revealing in any part, who the nine million fraudsters are, would bring the system to collapse in attempting to prosecute and deal with the related fraud and entitlement issues.

The result, is that you and I, through our taxes are subsidising up to nine million "ghosts" to the tune of at least £20 billion each year, (£330 for every person in the country according to reorted figures)."

Anonymous said...

All very well 'catching' cheats on the benifit system, but how much money will that remove from the local economy? Do we get a grant from central government to help shop keepers going out of business? Should the council not take lessons from these cheats as to how to extract money from Central Goverment?

DrM. said...

I'm unsure of the direction of your question. Are you suggesting that councils should somehow act in a fraudulent manner. I doubt it but do remember that councils exist to deliver public services and that while encouraging local business for sound economic reasons, it's central government that directs and controls anything substantive in this area!

Nethercourt said...

Sort of raises the subject of identity cards again I suppose.
At what stage does the cost of one out weigh the other.....