Saturday 10 December 2011


This week Crimestoppers launched a new campaign to "fight benefit fraud". They say this is in response to benefit fraud being deemed the third "most worried about" type of crime in a poll they ran this year. (Hat tip to @Debbiegeorge65 for pointing out the link.)

This is despite the fact that there is already channel for reporting benefit fraud. And despite the fact that 96% of calls to the National Benefit Fraud Hotline are malicious or timewasting. David wrote a bit about what it was like to be falsely accused of fraud back in January.

It's worth reading the official fraud stats on page 12 of this latest report to compare fraud to error and also to see how much is actually lost to fraud. But here are the fraud rates:

  • Income Support: 2.4%
  • JobSeeker's Allowance: 4.1%
  • Pension Credit: 2.3%
  • Housing Benefit: 1.3%
  • Incapacity Benefit: 0.3%
  • Disability Living Allowance: 0.5%
  • Retirement Pension: 0.0%
  • Carer's Allowance: 3.9%

The benefit with the highest rate of fraud is JSA at 4.1%. Certainly a far cry from the lies in the Daily Mail that 94% of IB claimants are fakers.

But it's because of these lies that the voters in the Crimestoppers poll would think that benefit fraud is so prevalent. And these lies go totally unchallenged in the mainstream press. This week on Question Time judge Constance Briscoe claimed there were vast swathes of fakers out there, but when asked how many she, unsurprisingly, didn't know. Next boss Lord Wolfson then claimed that JSA wasn't the benefit with the fraud problem, but disability benefits. The same disability benefits whose fraud figures I've italicised so you can clearly see just how low those fraud rates are. No-one corrected him. (Mehdi Hasan has written a blog post correcting some flawed statements from the episode, but not the disability benefits one.)

According to those same DWP figures, the overall cost to the country of benefit fraud is £1.2bn. About a fifth of tax avoided by just one company: Vodafone. It's certainly a far cry from the £35bn to £70bn avoided in tax in total. So why aren't Crimestoppers campaigning against tax issues rather than pouring fuel on to the already raging fires of hate?

It's worth noting that while researching for this post I Googled "tax fraud facts," the top (non-sponsored) result isn't actually anything to do with tax fraud: It's the HMRC page about tax credit fraud. Which says everything you need to know about how our society prioritises those wildly differing amounts of cash lost to fraud on the basis of the perceived social status of those committing the crimes.


  1. Interesting phrasing - "third most worried about". It's the sort of wording you'd normally use to refer to crimes people think they will be personally and violently affected by. It evokes the kind of fear that, for instance, I feel about being assaulted (again) or raped. The fear of elderly people of being violently robbed; that kind of thing. Do people honestly WORRY about benefit fraud, that way?

    Or were they merely given a list of crimes to rank, with benefit fraud near the top (either for alphabetical reasons or because it's prominent culturally due to government misinformation), ensuring that it would be frequently chosen first? Asked leading questions about a crime they're ANGRY, rather than worried about, because they've been told to be? Either way, it seems like Crimestoppers have chosen a soft, populist, easy target this winter. Imagine the success rates they can claim - "XXX people felt empowered to call our benefit fraud hotline!"

  2. What is the fraud rate compared to the MP's expensis fraud? or your average Joe claiming extra mileage and a meal that was really a sandwich in the car when working outside the office? It's easy to pick on benefit claimants and the ones who do are probably the ones cheating their work by taking photo copier paper and pens home for the kids to scribble on.

  3. I did see a post comparing benefit fraud to expenses fraud somewhere. Possibly on

  4. I was thinking I must write something about the Crimestoppers thing, but I'm so strapped for spoons at the minute it's a relief to see someone has done it! And done a better job that I would have done - I didn't see QT so missed all the extra stuff and I'm not sure I would have had the patience to dig up the stats. Which doesn't for a moment make any of it remotely acceptable.

    Isn't there something truly wrong with our society when judges and organisations set up to stop crime enable a hate crime.

  5. The history of Crimestoppers is that it was set up by (now Lord) Michael Ashcroft after the Broadwater Farm riots. He has been its chairman for 23 years and is a major donor. So, it should be considered a Tory charity and it is entirely logical that it participates in present government policy (although the fraud hotline existed under the last government as well). Are charities allowed to participate in explictly political activities? It should be investigated.

  6. This Crimestoppers press release is so full of holes that I hardly know where to begin. However, on drilling down into the statistics, it turns out that tax fraud costs the Government £15 billion, as compared to the £1 billion lost to benefit fraud.

    That begs the question of why Crimestoppers aren't focussing on tax frauds first, since they do the most damage. They can't claim ignorance, either, because I got to the original statistics by following a footnote link from the Crimestoppers press release.

    The fraud statistics are here:

    Check the table on page 15 - tax fraud is the very first line at the top right.

  7. My letter to Lord Simon Wolfson who can be contacted here:

    May I urge you all to write to him.

    Dear Lord Simon Wolfson,

    On Question Time (8th December 2011) you said that "the system that is played more than any other, incidentally, is the disability benefits". This is untrue.

    In July of this year the government published Fraud and Error in the Benefits System: Preliminary 2010/2011 Estimates:
    This document shows that the amount of disability benefit reportedly lost due to fraud remains low, indicating the majority of claimants are genuine.

    It states that Incapacity Benefit, by percentage, is one of the least overpaid benefits and that more is lost on Incapacity Benefit due to official error than to fraud.

    The figure for those fraudulently claiming Incapacity benefit is 0.3%. The figure for official error is 1.2%.

    The Document states that £130m was lost to ‘Fraud and Error’ in the relevant period and that £70 Million of that was due to ‘Official Error’.

    I would also point out that they have managed to add the three figures for ‘Fraud’ £20m, ‘Customer Error’ £50m and ‘Official Error’ £70m and arrive at a total figure of £130m which is clearly £10 million pounds out – who knows which way it is askew! Perhaps if I ever get well enough to return to work I could be employed checking government documents for basic errors – I would jump at the chance.

    It goes on to say that the rate of Disability Living Allowance Fraud is 0.5% and that for Official Error is 0.8% - again more error than fraudulent claiming and again a low figure for fraud compared with other benefits.

    I have, unfortunately, been on Incapacity Benefit for 14 years due to an illness that prevents me from being able to sustain any kind of activity in a way that makes work possible and I am constantly dismayed by the way that sick and disabled people are reported on in the media.

    It is all very well politicians and journalists remembering to, once in a while, mention that most are genuine claimants – those who David Cameron claimed he would make sure would be looked after and who, are now, having to appeal against bad decision making by ATOS who are not sanctioned when they get it wrong but are paid for ‘through rates’ of claimants and, thus, disincentivised to spend enough time inputting the data accurately in the first place. The truth; that, according to the government’s own statistics, most of those claiming disability benefits are genuine, is not the overall message that gets through and I admit that hearing or reading everyday that I am a piece of ‘workshy scum’ is starting to take its toll on my mental health when I am already physically unwell and have been everyday for 15 years.

    You may wish to claim that you don’t mean genuinely ill people like myself but in the public imagination your words tar everyone with the same brush – is that a deliberate strategy?

    Nobody would argue that the amounts involved are insignificant but to say, as you did, that "the system that is played more than any other, incidentally, is the disability benefits" was, at best, an error born of ignorance and at worst a deliberate untruth that might incite further hatred against sick and disabled people.

    So thank you for adding to the burden of all of us who have been unlucky enough to become ill or disabled and are, consequently, unable to work, by repeating the lie on national television. Perhaps you should check the figures first. I suspect that the rate of fraud in your own organisation is much higher. Do you have the figure?

    I look forward to hearing from you.

  8. It was a pleasure to read the Blog and following comments. I've been grassed up for supposedly working and threatened with prison. I was suffering(and still do)with severe bouts of depression. Guess what set it off again? I was suicidal. Nik Morris (Brynmawr).

  9. Thank you Lisa for the name of the disgusting bigot Judge on QT.
    Thank you also to Joss for the letter - I shall circulate it on (the replacement for the BBC Ouch message board).
    Thanks again,

  10. I would like to see QT giving an apology on its next programme - in the samne way that the newspapers have to do when they put totally the wrong facts infront of the general public.

  11. I have not heard back yet and am not holding my breath.

    I had considered waiting until the new year and contacting my MP but have decided instead to make a complaint to Ofcom.

    Can I encourage you all to complain to Ofcom about Lord Simon Wolfson's lies :

    Also, if you are involved with other disability sites please encourage others to do the same.


  12. Hossy,

    Please feel free to add my letter in full to the site and encourage people to use the governments own statistics in complaints to Ofcom.

    I used to use Ouch! Didn't know there was a new site.

    Thank you!