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.