I'm sure everyone has by now seen the articles about David Cameron's latest crackdown on benefits claimants, with plans to pay private companies to rummage through claimants' accounts. I'd refer to his crackdown "on benefits cheats" but that's not really true - benefit fraud, particularly for disability benefit, is at less than 1%, which means that for every one fraudster he cracks down on, 99 genuine claimants, already dealing with poverty, sickness, disability, job loss and whatever other issues have led to them legitimately being on benefits, are being terrified and harassed. He's attacking claimants.
More money is lost through administrative error than through fraud. So it's interesting that Mr Cameron's plan of attack involves rummaging through the personal affairs of claimants rather than training his staff at the DWP and Tax Credits units to make fewer mistakes. Surely staff training is cheaper than investigating millions of claimants?
According to the Citizen's Advice Bureau, there's about £17bn of benefit that is unclaimed because people either don't know they're entitled to it, or can't deal with the application/appeals processes. Perhaps Mr Cameron is aiming to increase the unclaimed benefit with his campaign of "if you claim anything, we're going to have our grubby little paws all over your bank accounts and make your life a misery."
I'm very relieved to not be on means-tested benefits any more (I get DLA but that's for disability-related expenses such as mobility equipment, and not dependent on earnings or work status), as I almost certainly would have had a credit profile with red flags. The most regular things I bought on my credit/debit cards while living alone on IB and HB/CTB were:
- grocery shopping for more than one person and including baby stuff like clothing, food and nappies. (While I lived in Lowestoft, friends who drove would give me a lift to the supermarket. In order to take advantage of multi-buy offers and "spend £100 and get a voucher for cheaper petrol" offers, I'd pay for all our combined shopping in one go on my credit card, and then we'd split it up and sort out the cash when we got home.)
- lots of petrol, plus various car repairs and accessories. (I can't drive, but I often bought petrol for friends who drove me places and wouldn't accept any cash, and for Pip I also covered minor repairs on his car because without it I lost a lot of mobility).
I'd also occasionally buy larger or more expensive items for friends who didn't have the credit card/internet access combination at their disposal. They'd give me the cash, I'd order their (whatever), and it would be delivered to my address - because I was in most of the time anyway, and unlike the post office, they could collect from my flat outside working hours.
So I probably credit-profiled as a car owner/driver who shopped for a household of two or three adults and one or two young children and who had a reasonably high amount of disposable income for personal electronics. Which would be rather at odds with my claim to be a single disabled person, in a tiny one-bedroom flat, too ill to drive, no kids, and a low income.
It's just as well I'm not on IB any more otherwise they would have wasted a *lot* of time investigating me. But these sorts of informal money-saving measures are common amongst people on low incomes or with limited resources.
The other thing that tickled me was the idea that they will be looking for people spending money on gardening or DIY. You show me a person with a long-term medical condition and I'll show you a person who has been told by at least three medical professionals that they should try a spot of gardening by way of occupational therapy.