This morning I have come across two contrasting news stories.
The first has been reported across all the news media, but I will link to the BBC story.
“Ministers have tried to highlight the impact of benefit fraud by publishing some of the more unusual excuses used by people found guilty of cheating.”
The second is in the Guardian’s Comment Is Free blog.
The first story above reports on the most absurd excuses made for benefit fraud after the government have made them public today. The release of anecdotal evidence of fraud by government ministers is shocking spin. Of course the ridiculous nature of these excuses makes good publicity for the government and has been quickly picked up across all the news media. It comes on the back of minister for the disabled Maria Miller announcing on live television news that more people receive benefits for drug and alcohol addiction than for blindness (They don’t.) and employment minister Chris Grayling stating that 75% of people claiming ESA were fit to work. (They weren’t.) These are just some of many inaccurate or over-simplified releases of information by the government.
The current government, backed up by the tabloids, has a clear agenda to denounce the sick as scroungers so that their funding can be reduced or even cut off. It is a lie that is all too easily swallowed by the public. Reports of benefit fraudsters in newspapers makes good stories that cause the necessary amount of outrage in their readers to sell more newspapers. Unfortunately they grossly misrepresent the amount of fraud that actually goes on and distort the views of the people. I have two points to make here really; the amount of fraud is FAR lower than most people think, anecdotal evidence or not, and that people judge others far too easily and decide that people are committing fraud based on things that they see when they have NO idea of the actual circumstances. I am saving my arguments on this for another article, but I have already written about this in my previous article People on benefits? They’re all scroungers aren’t they? and mentioned it numerous times on this blog. I have also mentioned the assumptions that people make about my walking stick in Embarrassed to be me where I wrote about how people question why I need a stick or give verbal abuse because they think the stick is simply a badge to gain sympathy and benefits. Those people think that I am a fraud, when I can barely walk sometimes. Basically, people are horrible and make all sorts of negative assumptions about other people with no basis in reality.
The second story above gives a glimpse at the reality of trying to get benefits when they are actually needed. Although his gripe about DLA not being backdated to diagnosis or ending work, that isn’t anything new or particularly shocking but it does show that the benefits claim process is already quite harsh enough. Again, I have written about my own problems with claiming benefits on this blog, particularly in The benefit claims ordeal. Claiming benefits is hard. Very hard. The application process is hell. The forms are long and very difficult to fill in. It is nearly impossible to highlight the problems that an illness or disability can cause without getting a professional to fill in the form. The Work Capability Assessment is heavily weighted against the claimant and deeply flawed. While 40% of cases that are found fit for work are eventually overturned at appeal, many people give up before the appeal and for those that don’t the process is long and torturous. People even die from their illness before winning their appeal.
Even when successfully claiming benefits for illness or disability, living on them is no easy task. In the story mentioned above, a charity has to provide much of the care and resources needed by the writer of the article, but their funding has been cut too. When living on benefits management of the household accounts has to be perfect or people soon find themselves in bank charges hell. Shopping has to done on an incredibly tight budget and principles have to be compromised in order to get things that are needed. Lisa Ansell wrote about this in her article I can’t get this out of my head. Cooking can often take the form of desperation stew – see Poverty Cooking for that recipe. Living on benefits means never quite having enough to live on and to pay all the bills. Parents on benefits often go hungry so that their children can eat.
Once again I have to say that the government, the tabloids and the general public disgust me. Current thinking is not very far from repeating history. It has to change.