Council officers in Croydon, south London, joined police in riot gear for a dawn raid on Tuesday of last week. It was directed against people accused of claiming slightly more benefits than the state says they are allowed to.
The cops had an embedded journalist and photographer in tow.
The target was not some widespread conspiracy of criminal villains. Instead, it was two people who might have lied about their relationship.
With no apparent shame, council investigations officer Gail Campbell said, “We expect to see Mr has spent the night in the same bed as Mrs. We don’t expect to find he’s slept on the sofa.”
The couple were accused of pretending to split up in order to get more child benefit in the woman’s name, since the man was working.
One local Disabled People Against Cuts activist said, “We should be ashamed that this is not only allowed to happen but is celebrated as a twisted version of Con-Dem ‘fairness’.
“A narrative of benefit ‘scroungers’ distracts from the real problems in society—which are the fat cats and the Eton boys.”
The generally tiny amounts of benefit fraud that go on are usually one way of responding to life on the increasingly harsh welfare regime.
In the longest recession in more than a century, there aren’t many others.
Suicide and shoplifting were two others highlighted in a blistering letter to MPs by two churches last month.
On the rare occasions when they are caught, wealthy tax evaders are frequently invited to pay what they owe and are then allowed to go their way.
If you are judged to have fiddled your benefits you can expect to hear the crash of the front door followed by a hefty fine or prison.
Having terrorised and publicly humiliated one family, the squad moved to a second home to find out if a woman aged 65 still shared a bed with her 70 year old husband.
Cops later claimed to have targeted the raids over allegations of drug use and anti-social behaviour.
Nothing has been proved in this case, but they didn’t bring the benefit snoopers and the media along for nothing.
Such raids are a vicious piece of theatre designed to distract people from the real issues, blame the weakest and make them scapegoat workers.
Benefit sanctions can kill
Brandishing a photo of her dead brother, Gill Thompson took on Tory benefits minister Esther McVey earlier this month.
Diabetic David Clapson was found dead in his flat two weeks after his jobseekers’ allowance was cut off, or “sanctioned”.
He couldn’t top up his electricity and keep the fridge running for his insulin. He’d been due for a hardship payment.
But as Gill told McVey at the parliamentary select committee hearing into sanctions, “A diabetic cannot wait two weeks”.
The evidence submitted to the select committee has exposed the scale of suffering since the Tories scaled up Labour’s sanctions programme in 2012.
One in ten unemployed people in some areas have been sanctioned, losing their benefits for anything between four weeks and three years. For many, only charity food banks or the support of friends and family keep them from starvation.
This can be over such trivial offences as being a few minutes late for an appointment.
McVey denies that there are any targets for sanctions, but jobcentre workers have repeatedly reported being pressured to catch people out.
The three year sanction is a loss of £11,000—more than twice the highest fine imposed by the criminal justice system.
In total, an estimated £275 million has been taken from the poorest in this way in just two years.
Minister is vague on results
It’s not easy to find out how many people benefit reforms have killed.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has internally run 49 “peer reviews” following the death of a claimant since 2002.
Yet this would only cover a tiny fraction of the deaths linked to Work Capability Assessments (WCA) for disabled people alone.
Campaigners had to drag the figure out of the DWP. It had first denied there were any reviews, then gave an inaccurate figure of 60.
When asked about it at the select committee, Tory benefits minister Esther McVey said, “We ensured that we followed all our processes correctly.”
However, Disability Rights UK reports “serious failings in the scope and application of the safeguards” put in place after the death of a claimant in 2000.
McVey herself said last year that there was no policy of warning health and social services when vulnerable people were sanctioned.
The deaths put the Tories on the spot, but they pose a dilemma for Labour too. They are one of the most bitter sources of anger against the Tories.
But the policies that have done the most damage—WCAs and sanctions—were both introduced by Labour. And the party leadership is terrified of looking “soft” on welfare.
So while Labour can lay into the “abuse” of sanctions and Atos, the company that used to deliver WCAs, it plans to continue both sanctions and WCAs.
Only 2 percent of benefits expenditure was down to overpayments according to the official government figures for 2013-14—the most recent available. And of this, £1.1 billion, or 0.7 percent is due to fraud.
The rest is down to errors made by either claimants or the DWP. This compares to up to £120 billion lost annually due to tax evasion and tax avoidance by the rich.
The figures also leave out more than £12 billion a year in benefits that goes unclaimed.
“As more and more airtime is given over to poverty porn, it’s becoming more acceptable to stigmatise those deemed not worthy of a place in, or support from, society.
In Croydon mental health charities are supporting more and more people to access food banks due to benefit changes and sanctions.
No one was prosecuted in the latest tax dodging scheme. If that had been benefits related the courts would have been working overtime.”
Peter Rogers, Croydon Disabled People Against Cuts
“We don’t pay our tax so that police can come down on people heavy handed like that. They talk about policing by consent, well I don’t consent for police to use that kind of force.”
Glen Hart, Croydon TUSC parliamentary candidate