Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Scapegoats and benefit statistics...

The Churches have received some media coverage this week for calling the Chancellor, George Osborne MP, and the Department of Work and Pensions to account over the use of statistics.

In the Chancellor's speech announcing the Comprehensive Spending Review, and in DWP documents, the charge has been repeated that the country suffers from £5 billion benefit fraud. Mr Osborne said:

“Nor will fraud in the welfare system be tolerated any more. We estimate that £5 billion a year is being lost in this way - £5 billion that others have to work long hours to pay in their taxes. This week we published our plans to step up the fight to catch benefit cheats and deploy uncompromising penalties when they are caught.”

However when you look at the figures from the Government and HMRC, these reveal that of this £5 billion, benefit fraud is estimated at £1billion, and tax credit fraud is estimated at £0.6 billion, making a total of £1.6 billion. The exaggerated figure of £5 billion is derived by adding the fraud estimates to the estimates of error - errors made by Government as well as claimants.

We agree with the Government that benefit fraud is a serious offence, but implying that the poorest perpetrate this offence three times more than is the case is clearly unjust. The Baptist Union, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, together with the Church of Scotland, the Salvation Army, Church Action on Poverty and Housing Justice, have written to the Prime Minister asking that these statistics should not be misused again in ways that stigmatise benefit claimants, and that the public record should be corrected. We are waiting for the Prime Minister's reply. You can see here how the story was covered by the BBC , by the Guardian, and by the Telegraph .