The right-wing press have ferreted out a new anti-benefits ‘scoop’, and it’s beyond a joke [OPINION]

Tracy Keeling

The right-wing press have unearthed a new ‘scoop’ that underlines how flawed the benefit system is. Rupert Murdoch’s The Times first reported the news. But The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Star all hastily picked it up too.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile provided the exposé – namely, that UK taxpayers have given “several hundred thousand pounds” to fund terrorism through the benefits system.

There you have it. So if the UK didn’t have a welfare system, the terrorists would have NOTHING. And they would not be able to carry out attacks without that benefit money.

That’s the message these right-wing rags are trying to sell.

Beating the benefits system (with a stick)

Zakaria Boufassil, a Belgian national who lived in Birmingham, was convicted of funding terrorism a day before Lord Carlile made the claim. Boufassil stood accused of giving £3,000 to a suspect in the Belgium and Paris bombings. The money Boufassil used was from an account holding overpaid housing benefit, the court heard.

Yet Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, claimed that this was not an isolated case. He told [paywall] The Times:

Several hundred thousand pounds in small remittances have been used to fund terrorism in one way or another.

[Such activity] has increased during the rise of ISIS [Daesh]. Certainly the Government should ensure that there is more triage available when housing benefits recipients are known to have gone to another country.

And here’s how The Times introduced [paywall] that notion to the public:

Islamist terrorism plans ‘funded by British benefit system’.

The Daily Mail exclaimed:

Hundreds of thousands in UK benefit money used to fund terror, says Lord Carlile.

While The Sun went with:

BENEFITING THE TERRORISTS: ISIS terror attacks ‘were funded by British housing benefits’ as experts demand urgent inquiry.

Hammering home the message

The intention of headlines and content like this is to provoke anger. YOUR hard-earned money has been used to BLOW UP fellow European citizens, readers were told. And it’s because the benefit system is so flawed.

At no stage is it stated that fraud accounts for very little of total housing benefits. The government’s own estimate is that in 2015/16 fraud overpayments stood at 3%. That was a 0.6% increase on the year before, because the government re-categorised some overpayments as fraud that were previously listed as claimant error.

Nor was any evidence provided to support Lord Carlile’s assertion.

Of course no one wants public money used for such despicable acts. But we also do not want the media seizing on the Birmingham incident to push an anti-benefits narrative. The narrative is outlandish and laughable – but the damage it could do to poor and ethnic minority communities is frightening.

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Featured image via HelenCobain/Flickr , Loz Pycock/Flickr and Hans G/Flickr

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