As the Canary has repeatedly written, the idea of so-called rampant ‘benefit fraud’ is a right-wing myth. It’s partly based on literal guesswork from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Now, a parliamentary committee has cottoned onto this fact – and is forcing the DWP to be subject to an inquiry. Crucially, the committee wants to hear from people directly affected by the department’s mendacious agenda around benefit fraud.
DWP: under the spotlight in parliament
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has launched an inquiry into the DWP which will look at benefit fraud and error in 2022-23. Specifically, PAC will investigate the department’s:
performance during that period, on job support programmes to help the recovery from the pandemic, and whether the record on fraud and error in benefit delivery has improved.
Spoiler alert: PAC doesn’t think the DWP’s record on benefit fraud and error has improved. In November 2022, it published a scathing report on the issue. PAC said:
DWP maintains that current fraud levels are still due to COVID-19 but is unable to say when levels of fraud and error will fall. It has repeatedly claimed that there is increasing propensity to fraud in society in general since the pandemic but is unable to point to convincing evidence why this should lead to increasing losses to the taxpayer.
This lack of “convincing evidence” is probably because the DWP has none.
Benefit fraud: all smoke and mirrors
As the Canary previously reported, half a billion pounds of “low suspicion” fraud in 2020/21 that the DWP claimed was fraud was based on its assumptions. Moreover, what the DWP calls “high suspicion” fraud was also based on no evidence. So, again the DWP reported potentially billions of pounds of fraud here, without evidence.
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Overall, the actual figure of real fraud compared to what the DWP assumes is fraud (but may often not be) is likely a lot lower than the £8.3bn it publicly declared.
PAC has realised this, too. It said the DWP:
assumes that all claims from Universal Credit claimants who choose “not to engage” with DWP’s fraud and error measurement exercises are fraudulent but admits that it has no statistically significant information to support this view.
However, the committee also recognises that this isn’t the only problem with the DWP’s approach to benefit fraud and error. It noted:
At the other end of the problem, benefits underpayments can lead to severe hardship. The Department estimates that 237,000 pensioners have been underpaid a total of £1.46 billion in State Pension, with underpayments going back as far as 1985. Work to rectify this is behind schedule and “efforts to correct the systemic underpayment of State Pension are too slow to meaningfully put things right”, and “will be too little, too late for many affected pensioners”.
Of course, the DWP also systemically underpays both working-age and health and disability-related benefit claimants. Its accounts show that in 2022-23, it underpaid claimants £3.3bn of the money they were entitled to, including:
- £680m of Universal Credit.
- £900m of Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
- £670m of State Pension.
Of the £3.3bn, £1.2bn was the DWP’s fault, and the rest was (it claimed) due to “claimant error”.
A long-overdue inquiry
All this means that an inquiry into the DWP’s claims around benefit fraud and error is long overdue. Overall, PAC said:
The Committee remains unconvinced that DWP’s systems overall are “adequate to detect further underpayments before they build up into major issues in future”.
The committee also wants people to get involved. Guidelines state that people who have lived experience of the benefits system can submit evidence. You can do that here, and the deadline is Monday 24 August.
The push to tackle ‘benefit fraud’ has been one of the most toxic political agendas of recent years. It’s played into ‘scrounger’ narratives which have allowed successive governments to cut benefits – to the point where the UN accused them of “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s rights. So, PAC’s inquiry into this area of the DWP cannot come soon enough.
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