We're going to talk about thick people today. Yes, I'm very mean, but they're too thick to notice so don't worry, this won't hurt them. But we all know someone who is a bit slow on the up-take and not because of some audio or language processing delay, I mean their ability to grasp complex or abstract concepts is so in deficit that when they try to be clever, they end up saying something so stupid that temporarily, you also become stupid whilst you try to work out what sense it's supposed to make. A little while ago someone tweeted that they knew a person who works for the Secretary of State for Welfare, Iain Duncan-Smith. What they had been told was that the man was quite challenged, or 'thick as a plank'. The thought had never occurred to me before. Current ideas about the reasons for welfare reform included pure maliciousness, good intentions blinded by ideology and indifferent politics seeking good publicity. Now I can add 'they're just a bit thick' to the list after Iain Duncan-Smith went and confirmed the Twitter rumour.
I have not been able to find figures for the actual number of benefit fraud cases prosecuted each year, they don't seem to be published anywhere but I am glad that now they have been mentioned in Parliament they should show up on the DWP site soon. I note however that Duncan-Smith is using a slightly revised version of the figure touted on Panorama: Britain On The Fiddle a few weeks ago. It should be noted that the figure of £3.1 billion came out of the blue, it is not a DWP figure(unless they've published something new that I've not noticed) and even caught FullFact.org off-guard. The BBC may even have breached their own guidelines(again) by using it; it came from a single uncorroborated source which was Jim Gee at The Centre of Counter Fraud Services (I've not heard of them either) who I think was interviewed in the programme. The key part of their name is 'services', so they have a conflict of interest regarding giving accurate as opposed to inflated figures for fraud. Apparently it isn't possible to actually check their figures either and FullFact tried, they really tried. There is an Audit Commission report that does suggest fraud incidence may be significantly higher than fraud prevalence, but I still need to get round to reading it. However, I highly doubt it on the basis that Labour (who were more hostile to benefit claimants than any government that came before them) swelled the numbers of benefit fraud investigators yet there was no big increase in the number of frauds being caught.
But do you know what does increase the number of frauds being caught? An increase in overall benefits being claimed and that is what has happened. In the preliminary report for 2010/11, the increase in expenditure lost to fraud for DWP benefits(does not include those administered by HRMC like Tax Credits etc) has gone from £1.1 billion in 2009/10 to £1.2 billion in 2010/11. Iain Duncan-Smith makes a big deal out of this: it's an extra £100 million in overpayments detected. But maybe someone in the Secretary's office should have pointed him to the overall percentage of 0.8% expenditure for fraud, it's the same for both years. So what changed? The number of people claiming benefits, it went up. There are some minor changes among the individual percentages for each benefit, with JSA being the largest at a 0.5% increase in fraud prevalence, but two things must be noted: first that many of these cases will be pending appeals, prosecutions or outright being played by the system even if their claim was legitimate. Second, that the Coalition government has been cavalier about the possibility of hurting other claimants in the pursuit of the tiny number of frauds, increasing sanction quotas and generally lots of other ill-advised stuff. But in essence, the increase seems to mostly come form there simply being more overall benefit claimants. Duncan-Smith wants us to believe that his government (other than increasing unemployment) has achieved the increase of £100 million detected fraud by some ingenious decision-making. Worse still, he probably actually believes this is true.
As the Labour Party is now a subject of Case File #1, I can only assume that their inability to properly scrutinise a man only slightly more informed than the Prime Minister about welfare comes from their agreement with virtually everything the Coalition believes about welfare.
Case File #1 is numbed by the stupid.