Everyone knows someone that they think is a benefit cheat, either because they work while claiming benefits or they do things that they shouldn’t be able to do while receiving sickness benefits, or because they have expensive possessions or a new car.
The thing is, nearly everyone is simply wrong. Some benefits, for example DLA, are paid whether a person is working or not; and many people carry on working as long as possible despite their health problems, so working and claiming sickness benefits is often no indication of fraud. Many people have variable illnesses and can carry out a necessary task, but at massive cost to their health, so what you see them doing is no indicator of “worthiness” for sickness benefits. Many people have TVs and gaming consoles given to them by family, or had such things before going on benefits, or are running up large personal debts to keep up, so what you see in their home is no indication of fraud. Many people receiving DLA get a new car every three years through the Motability scheme, so having a new car is no indication of fraud.
Disability Living Allowance is paid whether the recipient is working or not. DLA is given specifically to make up for the extra expenses caused by living with a disability. My own father receives DLA which pays for him to have a car on the motability scheme. DLA also pays for suitable seating, extra heating bills, easy-to-access food, and other extra costs. My father is still working, and since he only has low paid temporary work, if he has his DLA taken away from him, he would lose his car and be unable to get to work.
As regular readers will know, I have a variable illness. There are days when I can walk to the shops. There are days when I can’t get out of bed or as far as the bathroom. There are times when I go out without using a walking stick but I have to use one to get home. (Staggering all the way.) There are times when I am well enough to ride a motorbike. There are occasions when I have ridden that motorbike for four hours, but then an observer has no idea what I go through after doing that. If someone sees me walk to the shops without a stick, they can’t make any assumptions about what I can do the next day, or even an hour later.
A major flaw in public thinking, and in the Work Capability Assessment, is the idea that if a person can do something once, they can do it again. I can choose to do a task at the expense of a day, a week, or however long in bed. I couldn’t do that task every day. I certainly couldn’t do it all day every day. I can sign my name, but I can’t write a page of text. I can commute to work, once, but couldn’t get home again. I could set up a whole website in a couple of hours in the middle of the night, but I couldn’t do it all day every day for a living, or tell you when I could next do it. Other people with health problems might be able to mow their lawn, put up a shelf or paint a wall, but at a similar cost to their health along with the associated recovery time. Living on benefits, as many of these people do, they are poor. They can’t afford to pay someone to do these jobs necessary in everyday life, and so they do them themselves, and pay the health costs later. Yet neighbours and passers-by see them doing these tasks, and instead of asking “can I help?” they phone the DWP and report them as a benefit fraudster.
580,000 people use the Motability Scheme to get a car, wheelchair or scooter. Getting an appropriate vehicle to allow freedom of movement is the whole point of the mobility component of DLA. If they have chosen a car, they receive a new one every three years simply because the Motability scheme, (which is not government run), makes the finances work by giving new cars to the disabled in return for a chunk of their DLA, and then selling the car after three years to recoup the rest of the cost. Since Motability is responsible for the maintenance of the vehicles too, this works out cheaper than giving people second-hand cars, and also doesn’t leave disabled people stranded when their used car breaks down. And yet many people denounce this as fraud. Why should they have a new car? Well they have one because that costs them less than buying their own used car. It isn’t benefit fraud just because you are jealous of their car.
Then we have the household with electronic entertainment devices. Big screen TVs, games consoles, expensive Sky or Virgin TV subscriptions, smart phones. First off, an outsider won’t know where or when these items were obtained. They might well have been purchased before the owner started to claim benefits. The might also have been purchased later using credit, which is then repaid out of the benefits, which of course means less money for other living costs. That isn’t fraud; it might be unwise spending, and I don’t necessarily agree with that either. In some situations these items are purchased using cash from a loan shark, or from a catalogue or pawn shop with weekly collections of the repayment.
You also can’t necessarily argue that these items are unnecessary. There is a big argument to be made that television is part of our social glue, and that depriving someone of their TV, especially if they don’t go out to work, is just cutting them off from sources of news and entertainment and social connection to the rest of society. I say it is a gross injustice to remove a TV from someone that may not be able to get out of the house easily and may have no other source of entertainment. Equally, a games console is a way of passing the time, and for children might well be important for their social acceptance.
Basically, if someone spends their entire benefit payment on a games console instead of food, that’s not fraud, that’s bad planning. Benefits do not usually come with a specification of what the money can be spent on; in the rare cases that they do, the recipient is given milk tokens, or Tesco vouchers with “Not to be spent on alcohol” stamped on them to make sure that the cashier knows your embarrassing situation.
I know that there are benefit cheats out there. I know that there are people working while claiming Job Seekers Allowance, some of the time managing to live extravagant lifestyles, have mansions, lots of cars, and so on. The thing is, you have probably read about every single one of them in the Daily Mail. They are rare. Those people go to prison, and rightly so. But most of the people that YOU might think are cheats, probably aren’t. You don’t know their details, you don’t know anything about their health, their abilities, their financial situation, or where they got anything from.