Last night’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary promised to reveal the “tricks of the dole cheats” that apparently “make it easy to cheat the system”.
Being one of 2.5 million people on the dole, I settled back with my mug of Value Tea and prepared to take notes on how I might improve my standard of living—or at least afford a better class of beverage.
I was sadly disappointed. The show failed to do what it said on the tin. Instead it set out to demonise the public sector in general, and Job Centre workers in particular.
The programme opened with footage of David Cameron’s speech promising his government would tackle benefit fraud that allegedly costs the exchequer £1.5 billion a year.
Our reporter Morland Sanders failed to point out that this accounts for just 0.8 percent of benefits spending and is nearly matched by the 0.6 percent of expenditure lost due to government error.
As for the promised “tricks of the dole cheats”, it showed just two of them. The first is claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) while not actively seeking work.
One of Sanders’s young unemployed helpers hands over his record of attempts made to find employment. The adviser signs him on without noticing that he has filled in the form with his shopping list.
He should think himself lucky. Sanctions that stop or reduce benefits for errant claimants have trebled from 139,000 in 2009 to 508,000 last year.
Those unwilling to work for free on government workfare schemes have also been targeted. And the pressure to make those sanctions has come from the “welfare-to-work” firms that profit from workfare.
The second “scam” can only be described as the oldest trick in the book—claiming while working. But this doesn’t happen nearly as often as Channel 4 would like us to think.
There are a few reasons why claiming JSA whilst working is so minimal. For one thing, it’s hard enough to find a job. It’s harder still to find a job that pays cash in hand and keeps you off the books.
On top of that, successive governments have put resources into targeting and prosecuting those that break the rules. Typically these turn out to be self-employed workers with a low and irregular income.
Dispatches was based on a couple of fallacies. The first is that those who designed and developed Job Centres have any real interest in helping the unemployed. Entitlements are hard to claim, and front-line staff are frustrated in any attempt they make to support jobseekers.
The second myth is that Job Centre staff are not trying hard enough to find work for their “customers”. There are 2.5 million unemployed chasing less than 500,000 vacancies. So 80 percent of “customers” are going to be disappointed even if every vacancy is filled.
No doubt some unemployed workers will have taken heart at the way Dispatches attacked the Job Centre staff that they regularly encounter. But they should not be fooled.
Job Centre workers and claimants are both being demonised so that the Tories can carry on stealing jobs, slashing pay and creating a harsher climate for the poor.
Cameron would dearly love us to be at each others’ throats—while the media stays silent about his wealthy friends stashing their fortunes in tax havens.