Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A Familiar Scene

A while ago I made a speculative article about a piece in the Daily Mail reporting on twenty-three cases of benefit fraud being heard in a Birmingham magistrate court. I speculated that in order for such a piece to have been written the Mail would need to have known about these court appearances in advanced, considering they even had one of their own cameramen there to take pictures. Unless they check the courts pages of every local newspaper in England, it seems they did get a tip-off (which I finger the DWP for). The Mail expressed the usual outrage but none of the cases reflected outright criminality, many of them could have been errors caused by poor Jobcentre advice. The Mail also overplayed how many people were seen in the courtroom in one day and downplayed that this was because the DWP booked the court space as a bloc to save money. Those being prosecuted represented months of investigation in the entire area around Birmingham. I can be confident of this because the Mail weren't able to run a repeat of this story every week.

In fact, they've only just got round to doing it again and this time dubbed it a 'special investigation', this time with 8 people in the same court. Birmingham is perfect for this because it has a high population and a higher than average number of benefit claimants. Talk about loading the Mail loading the dice here and it's still taken them six months to get a sufficiently high number in court at once again.

But now they seem to have sunk to a new low. Reading through the article there is something not quite right about these cases. Osama Alaubaib is a non-English speaking immigrant and was accused of working whilst claiming Jobseeker's Allowance. His reason was straightforward: he thought he was told he could work for 16 hours a week and didn't have to declare it. It's possible he really could have been told exactly that given the track record Jobcentre Plus has on advising claimants, but in this case the problem is aptly explainable by an obvious mistranslation. Given the way the author is explaining the court proceedings it seems there were some further misunderstandings and I don't believe he should have pleaded guilty. It seems he was badly advised because of translation again, he pleaded guilty and was fined and ordered to pay court costs and that's where his bafflement at having to pay costs suggests to me he didn't understand what he was doing. Only after this does he get the chance to reveal he has already started paying back the money he claimed. The Mail downplays this by pointing out it's just £5 so far, but doesn't state when this was paid or what Mr Alaubaib's current circumstances are. The case brought by the DWP is either malicious or they're trying to meet a target. No previous convictions for similar offences are mentioned but considering he's been in the country 6 years and the amount he claimed is just £2,825 I'd say this was a first and barely worth the fine.

In fact the more information the Mail gives about someone, the more the Mail and DWP look like bullies and liars to me, so the author that wrote this doesn't go into much detail. I'll fill them in then using the power of deduction. The most striking is also the one the Mail are cruellest to.

Halima Hameed is a 51 year-old single mother. She is the first in the article and whilst she understands English she doesn't have the confidence to speak it and required a translator. The Mail reports with glee that the chair of the bench pointed out Hameed has been in the UK since the age of six. They're trying to make her out to be one of those 'bad immigrants' but nothing is actually said of why she does not have the confidence to speak English; the author just says enough to get the dig in. She worked whilst claiming Income Support and the amount of money is listed as £9,000. The article says she 'began claiming benefits in 1998' (it does not specify which benefits). In 2007 she started working for 36 hours a week and didn't inform the DWP. She is not working now, is receiving Income Support and has been eligible to receive Legal Aid for this case. The author reports her as defending claiming while working because her daughter and granddaughter moved back in with her and money was tight. Here's what I can tell you about Halima Hameed:

She is a carer for a severely sick or disabled person and has been the primary carer since 1998 but was caring for this person long before that, not mentioned in the Mail article. Her daughter took over in 2007 when she moved back in and Halima had to go to work to get more money. Circumstances have obviously changed since then and she is back as the primary carer for the unmentioned person. The person is likely to be an adult child or even a sibling of hers, not her former husband who is either deceased or less likely, divorced. She is in an immensely difficult and stressful set of circumstances. What are my reasons for coming to this conclusion?

She is addressed as 'Miss' rather than 'Mrs' but given she is a first-generation Punjab-speaking immigrant I'd say her family is quite conservative and having children out of wedlock would be unlikely but she's described as a single mother and I'd lean more towards her husband dying rather than a divorce for the same reasons. If she had been claiming any benefit other than Income Support since 1998 she wouldn't have simply been able to dive onto it once she stopped at her 36 hours a week job, she would have been put on JSA, meaning that the unmentioned benefit she started claiming in 1998 must have been Income Support. She would have been about 38 years-old then and possibly had one last child more than 7 years after her last one but the DWP would have known any time before 2007 when the child turned 7 and stopped the Income Support then, in 2005. So she must have been claiming Income Support for a reason that allowed her to claim beyond 2005, it was a criteria not related to having children at all and when her circumstances in this are taken into consideration the only one remaining is that she is the primary carer of a severely sick or disabled person and was unable to work because of it. EDIT: also, I think she was caring for this person long before she became the primary carer in 1998 because her understanding of English contrasting with her lack of confidence in using it suggests she is like most carers in Britain: isolated and without support beyond immediate friends and family.

When her daughter and granddaughter moved back in 2007, any Income Support she would have been claiming at the time would get cut-off because IS must be claimed as a household. But as her daughter isn't mentioned and isn't appearing in the court with her, I'd say it's more likely that her daughter was working or studying, but either way their combined income by moving into the same household would have been decimated unless Halima started working. The Mail doesn't go into the specifics and I suspect it's because the facts would present this family as being a rather sympathetic case. So the hack omits them when this is a case that deserved more investigation, just so the sickos at the Mail on Sunday can put the boot in some more:

"Such sob stories are familiar fodder to the magistrates"

1 comment:

  1. Such "inconvenient" facts matter not for the Mail.The lady fitted the "criteria" to expound their "righteousness" and make their readership salivate with glee.Similarly,at least one of the other cases appeared to have the DWP "shooting itself in the foot" as the particular lady may well have been entitled to more than she actually claimed.As I suspect Halima Hameed may well have been,if she had claimed all that she would have been entitled to over the years.