‘Cheating the Chancellor…Britain’s Benefit Problem’

Lazy left wing socialists are ruining our country, a dramatic statement perhaps – but a fair one?

In April 2015 75% of people agreed that too much money was being wasted in the benefits system “paying benefits to people who don’t need them”, according to a survey for the Financial Times.[1] David Cameron’s government has been arguing for a reduction of welfare spending in the United Kingdom as part of their programme of austerity. However, government ministers have also argued that a growing culture of welfare dependency is perpetuating welfare spending and claim that a cultural change is required to reduce the welfare bill.[2] Perhaps unsurprisingly these opinions are very similar to reasons given in the 1800s which led to the qualifications for receiving aid to be tightened, forcing many recipients to accept employment. The United Kingdom, as a welfare state in the modern sense, was anticipated by the Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws 1832, which found that the old poor law was subject to widespread abuse and promoted idleness in its recipients.

A change is needed in the work ethic of the United Kingdom – a change that will mean people no longer reside at home and claim benefits instead of actively seeking work. There are those who claim benefits, and quite rightly so. They are unable to work due to illness, disability, or remain unemployed despite seeking a job and it is these people who the welfare state should and does support. An interesting concept could be to introduce a system whereby those who are on benefits, but physically able to work, should be required to volunteer or do charity work in order to be able to claim job seekers allowance. This is in fact something which has been discussed by politicians. Before the re-election of the conservative government in 2015, David Cameron committed the next Tory government to abolishing the Jobseekers’ Allowance for 18-21 year olds. It is to be replaced with a ‘youth allowance’ that will last for a maximum of six months – after which claimants will have to undertake an apprenticeship or daily community work.[3]

However, too many people abuse the system which has a series of knock on effects often not thought about in any great depth. People are too lazy to work; they falsely claim that they are too ill or disabled to work. In 2013-2014 fraud and error in benefits payments remained excessively high at £3.3 billion – 2% of the total forecast benefit expenditure.[4] This is far lower than the figures believed by the public, who often believe that up to 27% of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently, however it is still a staggering amount of money. In June 2015 Denise Lonie was jailed for 12 months are claiming £30,000 in benefits that she was not entitled to. Lonie hid her relationship for more than four years, claiming she was a single mother, in order to claim Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.[5] In September 2015 Kathleen Rice was sentenced to 15 months after stealing almost £80,000 over 8 years by insisting she was not sharing a house with the father of her two daughters, while also claiming she received no financial help from him even though he was in full-time employment.[6] It is for reasons such as these that Tory MP Andrew Rosindell stated, “This government has been, and is right, to reduce the size of Britain’s welfare bill”.

Benefit frauds have another negative impact, one surrounding the stigma which is attached to people who claim benefits. There are the people who need to claim benefits, as mentioned above. Those who are too ill to work, those who have not managed to find a job but have a strong work ethic, a sense of pride, self respect. Yet these people are often lumped in with the ‘scammers’ when people talk disparagingly about those who claim benefits. The ones cheating the system, the minority, ruin it for the majority.

However change is coming. With the election of another Conservative government there are moves to restrict the amount people can claim as well as an attempted crackdown on those fraudulently claiming benefits. In a move condemned by many, families with more than two children will not receive tax credits or housing benefits for their third or subsequent children under a fundamental change to the welfare system. The move, which is to be introduced in April 2017, will save an estimated £1.35 billion by the 2020-21 financial year.[7] Additionally, the benefit cap will be reduced from £26,000 to £23,000 in London and £20,000 in the rest of the UK. Yet public opinion on the whole appears to support a reduction in welfare spending.

‘Lazy left wing socialist are ruining our country’ is a sweeping statement, yet the number of households in the UK receiving more in total benefits has risen by 11.3% since 1977 – particularly during the 10 years of Labour government from 1997-2007.[8] So a sweeping statement yes, but there is a modicum of truth in it.

[1] G. Parker, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a548291c-e763-11e4-a01c-00144feab7de.html#axzz3r1uwoIna, April 20 2015

[2] ‘Conservative Conference: Welfare needs ‘cultural shift’’, October 2012

[3] A. McSmith, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/generalelection/david-cameron-wants-jobless-young-adults-to-do-charity-work-in-return-for-benefits-10050160.html, February 17 2015

[4] M. Brown, ‘Most Households in Britain get more in benefits than they pay out in tax’, The Express, June 26 2014

[5] J. Beatson, http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/benefits-cheat-who-claimed-single-5888216 , Daily Record, June 15 2015

[6] D. Meikle, http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/crime/benefits-cheat-who-stole-80000-6421911 , Daily Record, September 11 2015

[7] A. Grice, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/budget-2015-live-emergency-uk-benefits-to-be-cut-for-families-with-more-than-two-children-10376015.html , July 9 2015

[8] [8] M. Brown, ‘Most Households in Britain get more in benefits than they pay out in tax’, The Express, June 26 2014


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