The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said that it’s looking to extend which benefits it routinely investigates for fraud. And now, it wants to include disabled children and pensioners in the dragnet. One campaign group called it the “hostile environment” getting “even more hostile”.
The DWP: big brother is watching you
On Monday 23 July, the DWP launched a consultation into the statistics it produces for benefit fraud and error. Among other things, the consultation will look at which types of benefits the department will target.
Currently, the DWP ‘measures‘ six benefits:
- Jobseeker’s Allowance.
- Employment and Support Allowance.
- Pension Credit.
- Housing Benefit.
- Universal Credit.
- Personal Independence Payment.
By ‘measuring’, the DWP means it will:
visit or phone claimants to check their current circumstances. We see if they match what we have recorded on our systems, and whether they’re getting the right amount of benefit based on those current circumstances.
But now, it wants to extend the scope of what benefits it ‘measures’; or ‘spies on’ if you prefer.
If you tolerate this…
It’s consulting on whether to include:
- Attendance Allowance.
- Carer’s Allowance.
- Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for children or pensioners.
difficulties walking or needs much more looking after than a child of the same age who doesn’t have a disability.
Children to whom it pays DLA are often severely impaired. But sometimes, this isn’t enough. As the Mirror reported, the DWP stopped DLA for a 11-year-old girl, even though she had only one lung and a twisted spine.
But when you look at the current levels of overpayments and fraud, there appears to be little evidence that disability benefits are a major problem.
The benefit fraud fairy tale
As The Canary has reported, its estimates for 2017/18 show that it overpaid £3.8bn to claimants, or 2.1% of its total bill. Of this, 1.2% (£2.1bn) of its £177.5bn budget was claimant fraud. This was at the same level as 2016/17.
But delve deeper into the figures, and it’s not disabled people’s benefits that are being greatly overpaid. The largest amount was Housing Benefit, accounting for 38.4% of the total overpayment bill [pdf, p3]. The main disability benefit the DWP investigates for fraud, Personal Independence Payment (PIP), was 6.8% of the overpayments bill; a figure that was unchanged [pdf, p3] from 2016/17.
But in its consultation, the DWP says that it decides which benefits to measure for fraud and error based on ones:
That have the highest expenditure or that we believe might have the highest levels of fraud and error.
PIP has neither the highest levels of fraud nor the highest expenditure among disability benefits – accounting for 14% of DWP spend in this area [pdf, p35].
Yet the DWP now wants to target disabled people even more for suspected fraud.
Campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) told The Canary:
The ‘hostile environment’ for claimants just got even more hostile. It seems that anyone disabled no longer has the right to a private life of any sort. They effectively become the property of the state to prod and pry into their every waking – and even sleeping – moment. DPAC and our allies will fight the atrocities that the DWP are enacting every step of the bloody way.
Out of control
But the DWP has a final insult to injury to add.
Its estimates for 2015/16 show that £12.4bn of unclaimed benefits were recorded [pdf, p3]; 10 times the amount of fraud. But it doesn’t include [pdf] PIP in its unclaimed benefits estimates. Yet it sees fit to target disabled people for possible fraud.
So, with the department now effectively looking to spy on disabled children, the ramping up of the so-called ‘benefit cheats‘ culture looks set to continue. The DWP is truly out of control.