Tories Accused Of Benefit Fraud ‘Witch Hunt’ As 87% Of Public Tip-Offs Lack Any Real Evidence
By Steven Preece: The Conservative government has been accused of carrying out a “witch hunt” against poor and vulnerable benefit claimants, as new figures obtained by the Independent newspaper reveal that the vast majority of fraud tip-offs by members of the public lack any real evidence.
The freedom of information request found that between 2015-16 and 2016-17, 332,850 cases of alleged benefit fraud were closed by investigators. Of these, 287,950 (87%) were found to have no or little evidence to substantiate the allegations made.
Members of the public are encouraged to report suspicions of benefit fraud through an online government service or fraud hotline, but the data shows that most of these reports are found to be incorrect or not supported by evidence, leading to calls for the government to drop the highly controversial system.
The public wildly overestimate the prevalence of benefit fraud, with voters believing £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is fraudulently claimed, while official government statistics put the fraud rate at just 1.1%. In 2015-16, total spending on benefits was £172.3bn, which means that £1.9bn was fraudulently claimed.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams MP, told the Independent: “Any fraud or abuse of our social security system should be dealt with quickly and proportionately.
“However, the Conservative Government have long directly and indirectly implied that all recipients are ‘shirkers and skivers’. The punitive way the Tories have delivered social security policies, such as sanctions and fitness for work assessments, reflects this approach.
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“What these figures show is how flimsy the ground is for this divisive rhetoric.
“The Government should instead focus on getting their own house in order and tackle the failing PIP [Personal Independence Payment] and ESA [Employment and Support Allowance] assessments as well as pausing and fixing their botched Universal Credit roll-out.”
Neil Gray MP, the SNP’s social justice spokesperson, accused the Tories of “creating a witch-hunt which demonises low-paid workers relying on tax credits and the sick and disabled who are unable to work”, adding: “It’s another example of the Tories dividing communities as neighbours become suspicious of each other.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Only a small minority of benefit claimants commit fraud, but those who do are diverting support from people who need it the most.
“Calls to the fraud hotline are vital in tackling this crime – and information from the public helped us detect more than £45m in benefit fraud in 2016 alone.”